When the 1995, “Team of Destiny” Varsity Piedmont football teammates were freshmen players under Frosh head coach Humphries in 1992, after their last game of that season, Coach Humphries was luckily captured on video giving a pep talk to them about the possibility of a wonderful football future that lay before them…if they could stick together and work hard to achieve their football dreams.
In 1993, after serving under Coach Beyrle as his offensive coordinator for six-years, I accepted the Varsity head football coaching position at Piedmont. Immediately thereafter, everybody within our Piedmont football family understood one thing for certain – the ACCAL Championship went through Bishop O’Dowd.
During my first-year as varsity head coach in 1993, my excellent assistant coaches such as, Dave Marshall, the late Greg Fox, and Pete Johanssen and I, decided to pull up several of the outstanding frosh players from the 1992 team. From that point on during the 1993 football season and through the 1995 “Team of Destiny” season; quite often, the last names of players such as, “Tollas, Peters, Sullivan, Griffinger, Pacult, Gray, Johnson, Bromley, Adams, Rutzen, Fleming, Dare, Fields and Watanabi” and many others could be heard echoing via the broadcast booming out of the Witter Field loudspeakers – proudly called by the late, great Piedmont announcer, Hunter McCreary.
In 1994, our Varsity football team travelled to play at Bishop O’Dowd. We were ready for the rivalry game vs. the Dragons at their place on a Saturday afternoon. However, our team was fairly and squarely defeated by a better O’Dowd team. After the game during that quick team bus ride back to Piedmont, I decided to look at things differently on behalf the hard-working Piedmont players and assistant coaches.
Adjustments had to be made…
A sharp truth pierced my brain like a bolt of lightning during that short ride back to Piedmont, “From now on, everything we do within the framework of Piedmont Football will be designed to defeat Bishop O’Dowd…and then we will adjust to our other opponents along the way.”
Entering the 1995 football season, our 31-man varsity football roster was led by a core group of players, many launched from that 1992 frosh team referenced earlier, “Tollas, Peters, Griffinger, Sullivan, Pacult, Gray, Johnson, Adams, Rutzen, and Bromley” among several other quality young men.
The 1995, “Team of Destiny” ended up finishing (8-1-1) that season. Prior to that, we had our committed players doing massive amounts of training in the off-season. Also, the assistant coaches and I spent a few months transforming our offensive, defensive and special teams’ systems into a more-narrow approach focused on defeating Bishop O’Dowd in order to win the ACCAL Championship outright. More adjustments were needed.
To be clear, our excellent 1995 football team caught two bad breaks to begin the season. In Week #1 at Pacific Grove, our outstanding Place Kicker, Schwartzman, drilled the game winning PAT that should have given our team its opening win of the season. But, even with our entire JV team standing on the track behind the uprights and jumping for joy after the PAT sailed through the uprights, the homegrown Monterey referees somehow signaled ‘No Good’ because the kick had been blasted too high through the uprights. So, the befuddled referees gave that egregious call to Pacific Grove, and the game ended in a tie, 13 to 13.
In Week #2, we hosted a powerhouse Berkeley High team in our home opener at Piedmont. The game was a masterful defensive slugfest and we held the lead with less than two-minutes to go. However, we were down to our third-string long-snapper due to injuries, and were forced to Punt from our own end zone. The long snap went whistling high over our Punter’s outstretched arms and hands through the back of the end zone for a two-point safety. We dropped that game, 8 to 7.
However, our players and assistant coaches were resilient. In Week #3 we travelled to San Leandro High and defeated a tough Pirates team to earn our first victory of the season.
We kept on winning games and stunned very highly ranked De Anza team at their place 31-8 for the win. Suddenly, the Piedmont 1995 “Team of Destiny” was for seemingly for real.
Heading into the O’Dowd game, the SF Chronicle had our two teams highly ranked and they were covering the game that night as well.
*In late October 1995, the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons and their highly-touted, Oregon State bound, star Running Back, Ricky Walker trekked to Piedmont to battle our team on a crisp night. A fantastic football game was about to take place in front of several thousand crazed football fans from both camps that jammed our Witter Field bleachers to standing room only.
Our worn out grass field had a brutally harsh runway of hard-packed devil dirt down the center of it that ran the length of the entire field. And, under the dimly lit cloudy lights of old Witter Field, the pregame aura and energy pulsing through the anticipatory crowd was surreal.
Prior to kick-off, each of our respective football teams linked-up with their teammates hand-to-hand and fanned out down the sidelines. Both units strode out to midfield to face one another and then proceeded to conduct a massive player-to-player, glare to glare hardcore stare-down, replete with some players barking and howling at their opponents with wildly painted game faces and grimaces.
Watching the incredible pre-game scene unfold, the bipartisan crowd went totally berserk, and from out over the loudspeakers came blaring that legendary song with the famous lyrics, “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” and “Ya’ All Ready for This!” It was nuts!
Going into the game that night vs. O’Dowd, our game plan was to run the football as much as possible, in order to keep their star running back, Ricky Walker off the field.
After the kickoff, it was our turn to go on offense. Our Piedmont team marched down the field and scored a touchdown with our very good tailback Johnson punching it into the end zone from a few yards out. That was a good sign, our powerful offensive line could get the job done.
However, if we were going to beat O’Dowd and claim victory, then our great defense would have to lead the way. Our defensive squad was led by Tollas, Sullivan, Griffinger, Peters and Pacult, and across the board to a man, we did not have one weak link on that stalwart unit.
When the Dragons got the ball back, our defense stuffed them deep in O’Dowd territory, and forced a fumble. Suddenly, our Piedmont offense was back on the field in the First Quarter and deep within Dragon turf. We executed a few nice running plays, and a great play action pass on 4th down from quarterback, Adams to receiver, Fleming that brought us down to the one-yard line. One play later we scored on another touchdown run, but we scuffed the PAT, and were up, 13 to 0. The raucous hometown Highlander crowd was delirious with joy!
But then, the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons woke up and their star running back, Ricky Walker unleashed a torrent of game breaking runs to turn the tide in their favor. Walker went left, Walker went right, and Walker went up the middle of our defense.
Our hometown crowd grew pensive, and the visiting army of O’Dowd supporters voiced their enthusiastic glee for their Dragons who had taken back the lead, 20 to 13 at the half.
At halftime on the way to our locker room while I was jogging up the bleacher stairs through the heart of the crowd with our Piedmont players and coaches, a warm and comforting feeling came over me, and it was then that I knew we were going to win the game that night. Our excellent football team had taken O’Dowd’s best shots during the first-half, and we were only down by a touchdown.
During halftime, our Defensive Coordinator, Dave Marshall made some key adjustments with his defensive unit, and as we departed the locker room to return back down to the field, Dave looked at me and said, “They’re done…they won’t score another point on us.”
I smirked at him and replied, “If you’re right, then we got this.”
After the second-half kickoff, our Piedmont team dominated virtually every facet of the game. We scored another touchdown on a short run after a nice offensive drive and kicked the PAT, now the score was tied, 20 to 20.
Our physical and smart defensive unit began to pound away at O’Dowd’s offensive line, and for the entire second-half, their great running back, Ricky Walker had little room to do much at all.
Our defense shut down O’Dowd and we got the football back. Our offense executed another beautiful play action pass for a big gain down inside the O’Dowd 10-yard line, and two plays later we scored again on a short run. Now we were up, 27 to 20.
The next play sealed the game for us to begin the fourth quarter. We kicked off after scoring the go ahead touchdown, and our stud linebacker and special teams’ warrior, Sullivan, attacked the O’Dowd kick returner like a tackling madman and he ripped the football out of the stunned ball carrier’s arm. Sullivan pounced on the tumbling football and suddenly our Piedmont offense was back out on the field inside the O’Dowd twenty-yard line, and we had the football.
Our offense continued to pound away at the fatigued O’Dowd defense and a few plays later we scored again to make the score, 33 to 20.
Now, with less than seven-minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, our defense was humming on all cylinders and the Dragons were out of gas. It was obvious, and our hometown crowd was screaming for joy, and jumping and dancing around in the stands with abandon!
As the official clock on the scoreboard wound down to show there was under one-minute to go in the game, several of the players and assistant coaches and I began exchanging hugs and high-fives in celebration.
Our Piedmont Football program had earned the win vs. Bishop O’Dowd in a classic rivalry game, and it was due to the hard work of the outstanding players and assistant coaches that spanned the course of several years.
That night after the game, all of us were exhausted but thrilled with the accomplishment. The next morning, the SF Chronicle featured the Piedmont vs. Bishop O’Dowd game in the high school football section, and the headline read, “Highlanders Live by the Sword!”
Our 1995, “Team of Destiny” finished that season 8-1-1, with a 7-0 undefeated league record and an ACCAL League Championship.
What a marvelous rivalry it was between Piedmont and Bishop O’Dowd “back in the day.”
Hopefully, on Friday night, October 7th at Witter Field, the very exciting matchup between these two great football programs will be the beginning of a once Great Rivalry Reborn?
Kurt Bryan is a graduate of Piedmont High (82′) and a former Head Varsity Football Coach (1993-1996) and (2006-2010)