For the better part of the first half of the 1982 season, the Washington High School football team was trying to gain a foothold in the Class AA Century Conference.
An early-season, 14-11, loss to Brownsville cast doubt about these Prexies. One thing was certain; they had an emerging running back in Brian Davis, who was turning heads as a sophomore Oct. 9, in basically a “must-win” at undefeated Beth-Center, Davis not only turned heads, but his incredible performance also opened eyes.
Davis pranced, danced, ran and even passed his way around the field and through, around and over top of the Bulldogs, who were 5-0.
It wasn’t just a great performance, it was his – and Wash High’s – coming out party.
“It let us know we could be pretty good,” Davis said. “We had to win. Everything came together. We knew going forward we could
compete with anyone.”
If a game helped turn a program, the Prexies’ 40-32 victory that night certainly was the start of a successful era of Wash High football and pointed the team in the postseason direction.
“Brian exploded onto the scene,” said his Wash High teammate, receiver and defensive back Jamie LeMon. “We knew as a team we had talent. We lost an early conference game to Brownsville and there were doubts.
“We knew to become a good team, to make the playoffs and to really take a meaningful step, we had to beat what was a fantastic Beth-Center team with some good talent on the road. We had to do that.
“Brian was a phenom. Everyone knew that after that game. He could just do things no one else did. His natural instincts and ability were unreal. I had played sports with him and against him in youth leagues a long time. I knew how special he was. On that stage, that night, it was just something very few athletes can do.”
The Prexies had not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in 10 years – when Guy Montecalvo, who was their third-year head coach – helped Wash High as a player to make the postseason in 1972.
In addition to Davis and LeMon, who later played for West Virginia University, Wash High had other Division I athletes, including quarterback Mark Wise, two-way lineman Fred Haywood, running back-linebacker Ricky Miller and defensive back and placekicker Jeff Frazier.
The Bulldogs had tight end Frank Hoak, who later played at Ohio State, running back John Murphy and quarterback Jeff Ruscitto.
On this night in Fredericktown, however, Davis stood out and stood alone. In all, Davis rushed for 236 yards on 16 carries. He scored touchdowns on runs of 56, 76 and 32 yards. He caught a 23-yard catch-and-run pass from Wise and threw a 46-yard pass to LeMon on a fullback-option for a touchdown.
Davis totaled 305 total offensive yards (rushing, passing and receiving) and amassed 379 all-purpose yards (he added 44 yards on returns). For good measure, he punted twice and averaged 34 yards.
His effort and performance lifted Wash High football to heights the program had not enjoyed since ’72 and 1974, when the Prexies won its last Century Conference championship.
“We had suffered a heart-breaking loss to Brownsville when they were an outstanding program,” Montecalvo said. “The Beth-Center game was pivotal to us. We were at the point of trying to build the program.
“The year before we were 3-6-1 and, in a lot of games, we were right there. We were on the cusp. It was an extremely pivotal game for our season.
“Brian had not played football as a ninth-grader. The Beth-Center game in 1982 was his coming out party. At that time, Beth-Center had a great culture, were extremely well coached, athletic and tenacious for a long period of time. We and Brian exploded in the first half. It was a great high school football game. The win infused confidence and propelled us.”
Wash High led 13-6 after the first quarter and added 13 more points in the second to hold a 26-6 halftime lead. One of the TDs was scored by Joe Barnes.
The Prexies used a good part of the third quarter clock before Wise hit Davis with a 23-yard TD pass to make it 33-6.
“They were so much faster,” Ruscitto said. “They were also tough kids. We had good players, some great players and both teams were never going to quit.
“Beth-Center-Wash High was always a big game back then. By today’s standards the offensive and defensive lines were not as physically big. But there were a lot of linemen on that field who could block and move.
“Brian was just a super talent. His game was special in every way. Wash high was the better team that night and he was a big reason for it. Not the only reason, though.”
Led by Murphy, Hoak and Ruscitto, the Bulldogs battled back. They got on TD back in the third quarter and scored 20 points in the fourth. But before Beth-Center posted those 20 points, Davis added his final TD of the game on a 32-yard-run that put the Prexies up 40-12.
Davis said while scoring 40 wasn’t in their sights, victory was.
“Not 40,” Davis admitted. “But we knew we could score. Plus, we thought we had a pretty good defense.”
Murphy rushed for 156 yards for the Bulldogs. Hoak caught two TD passes from Ruscitto and Drew Witowski scored two rushing touchdowns.
“Our backs were against the wall,” Wise said. “We had to win. It was 40-12 at one point and they did add some late. Beth-Center was a good team with some special players. But anyone who saw that game knew who the better team was that night.
“That was such a great win. In the Century Conference then, you better play well, or you were in trouble. There were no slouches.”
Davis’ big effort lifted Wash High to a Century Conference co-championship with the Bulldogs. Both teams advanced to the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. The Prexies upended Riverside in the quarterfinals, without Davis, before losing to Jeannette in the semifinals. Beth-Center played at Gypsy Glen Stadium where it lost to Bever 20-6.
The win over Beth-Center and post-season victory over Riverside were the two landmark victories for Wash High in 1982.
None of it happens with Davis celebrating his high school coming out part in Fredericktown 40 years ago.
The late Beth-Center Coach Don Bartolomucci was quoted in the Observer-Reporter as saying: “At halftime I told the kids we had to come out and stop them right away. Instead, they moved the ball and scored and when I looked up eight minutes were gone from the clock.”
The coach added: “You can’t take anything away from him (Davis) he’s one super back. But you just can’t arm tackle Davis. He’s too strong.
“He’s out of sight. He beat us by himself.”
Montecalvo said he and his players knew what Wash High was up against that night.
“We all saw glimpses of what Brian could do when he was young,” Montecalvo said. “We knew what he was capable of. It’s important to note, that anything Brian did or accomplished, he did it with humility. He wanted everyone to enjoy in the success.
“That victory at Beth-Center was the impetus for us to build the type of culture we wanted and to lay the foundation for what we ended up building where the expectation is to win every year.”
LeMon said Wash High’s win that night changed so much for the program and went deeper.
“It gave us so much more confidence. We knew for a long time; we had a good group of athletes. We thought we could win a game like that and then we knew we could. It changed the program. Brian changed the program. That victory allowed us to believe in ourselves in every sports.
“Brian was just different, so special. Everyone knew it that night.”