Our “When Sports Were Played” takes us back to Nov. 17, 1984, when California University wiped away 16 years of frustration and football futility by winning the Pennsylvania Conference (now PSAC) championship.
HERSHEY – It will be remembered that on the silver anniversary of the Pennsylvania Conference championship game, California University was as good as gold. In one bold afternoon, 16 years of frustration relented under the weight of unmistakeable truth: the Vulcans had struck it rich.
With California’s 21-14 victory over Bloomsburg still fresh on the Hershey Stadium scoreboard here Saturday, fans in red and black warmed up for the four-hour return trip by hugging each other. Fourth-year head coach Jeff Petrucci hugged the Governor’s Cup.
And somewhere in the midst of this Grimm brothers ending, destiny embraced perseverance. Given up only four weeks into it, California stood alone on the final day of the 1984 season.
“They had a team of destiny, and so did we. I don’t know if the football Gods knew which one to go for. I just. … It’s great,” said Petrucci, who quarterbacked the Vulcans to a 28-28 tie with East Stroudsburg in the 1968 championship. “Absolutely great. I don’t know what else to say.”
California was not one of the eight teams to receive NCAA Division II playoff bids Sunday, though Petrucci said only Friday “no one on the team has even mentioned it.”
The victory was all they wanted, and they certainly played like it, especially in the second half.
Senior quarterback Kevin Russell’s second touchdown pass of the game to junior Dave Lease, covering 14 yards with 1:06 to play in the third quarter, was the margin of victory for the Western Division champion Vulcans (8-3). It was their seventh consecutive win and second victory over Bloomsburg (6-5) this season.
It came in the midst of a defensive effort Petrucci modestly called “great.” The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, but Bloomsburg managed only 33 yards passing and minus-18 yards rushing in the final two quarters.
“If you take away a couple of big plays, they didn’t do anything,” Petrucci said. “That was the key. They made a couple of yards here and a couple of yards there, but we shut them down completely. We played great defense; we were much more physical than the last time we played them. It was really something.”
The Eastern Division champion Huskies tied the game, 7-7, early in the second quarter on a 66-yard pass from quarterback Jay Dedea to tailback Jeff Flickner. They fell behind again, 14-7, only to achieve the halftime tie by marching 32 yards in six plays after a fumble by California senior fullback Ken Adams.
“I don’t know what happened in the first half,” Vulcans senior nose tackle Dino DeCario said. “We just weren’t playing our normal game. But we knew we had to move it in the second half. There was no tomorrow.”
California blitzed repeatedly in the second half, and Bloomsburg, already weakened by injuries at both guard positions, crumbled. The young Huskies also hurt themselves with 50 yards in second-half penalties.
“They gave us more pressure in the second half, and we weren’t able to handle it,” third-year Bloomsburg coach George Landis said. “They were using more linebacker blitzes. Up at our place, they used outside blitzes with the safety and strong safety.
“Their blitzes in the second half were designed to pressure our offensive line, particularly our guards, where we had Dave Tracy out and another guy (Mark Williams) playing on one leg.”
The Vulcans’ offense handled itself in the usual manner. Despite Petrucci’s pre-game vow to emphasize the running game, Russell threw the ball 47 times, completing 30 for 257 yards.
“We thought we could run inside on them. They played a defense the first time around that we could run inside on,” Petrucci said, “but they changed. They pinched inside, moved their middle guard over to the split end side and played some different looks. They took away the inside stuff, but we were going to do what we do best. I’m going to throw the ball.”
Russell completed 20 of 29 passes in the first half, running three yards for the game’s first touchdown on an option play and later throwing five yards to Lease for a 14-7 lead.
California’s first touchdown came with 1:40 left in the opening quarter and capped a 72-yard, 12-play drive. Adams, who led all the game’s rushers with 98 yards on 21 carries, delivered key gains of 18 and 14 yards on the drive.
After Flickner’s catch tied the game with 14:45 to play in the first half, the Vulcans drove 62 yards on nine plays to regain the lead. Passes for 29 and 10 yards from Russell to Lease helped the Vulcans’ march, which ended with Lease’s touchdown catch with 11:04 to play in the half.
“They’ve been doing it well all year. They scored 31 points on Indiana last week,” Landis said, “and they’ve done a number on a lot of people. They’re going to get some points; they’re going to move the football. I thought we played real well defensively. We shut down a number of things, but you can’t shut down everything they do.”
California drove 83 yards for the winning score.
“For five years,” said DeCario, “this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.”
He was not alone.