Each time he goes out for a walk or a jog, Nick Milchovich is reminded of it. The hurt, the pain and the agony of being injured and defeated.
It was 30 years ago when the football teams at Charleroi and Washington high schools met with identical 8-0 records in a contest dubbed “The Game of the Century” leading up to the epic battle.
Milchovich was a rugged fullback and linebacker for Charleroi. The Cougars blocked a punt late in the game and Milchovich jumped up to get the ball. When he came down, he hurt his left ankle “really bad.”
What felt worse for Milchovich was Charleroi could not capitalize and Wash High withstood the final seconds to hold on for a dramatic, 6-0, decision in front of an overflow and energetic crowd at Wash High Stadium.
It was indeed one of the great games of the Century Conference.
“You ask anyone who has played at a higher level, they’ll most likely take you back to their high school days,” Milchovich said. “We all treasure those days. When you’re playing with your buddies, for your home town and your school in that kind of setting, it is special. No matter where you go, it’s hard to replace that feeling. When the stakes are higher, it’s even more fun.”
Except when you have a near constant reminder of the worse part of it.
“To this day, I still feel the effect of jumping up to grab that blocked punt,” Milchovich reminisced. “I feel that pain every time I go for a walk or jog.”
Setting the scene
Wash High Stadium has been the stage for numerous classic games over the years.
The Charleroi-Wash High game’s significance was rare because both teams were undefeated after eight games and the rosters were filled with outstanding players.
The Prexies were led by a dominating interior defensive lineman in Marvin Merriweather and defensive end Michael Edwards. The Wash High offense featured shifty quarterback Bryan Milligan, running back Jim Fields and receiver Keith Cushenberry and Edwards at tight end.
The Cougars were led by generational talent Darrel Harding, Milchovich, quarterback Brad DeiCas, receiver Brad Rayburn and a big and strong offensive line.
“The run up with all the excitement and building up to the week of the game was amazing,” said Dave Ray, a two-way lineman for Charleroi that season. “We were watching their scores all year. We knew it was going to come down to us and them. We knew it was possible both teams would be undefeated when we met.”
Bob Gregg, who has done play-by-play for WJPA radio since 1984, said the game lived up to the pregame hype.
While Washington County teams meeting undefeated that late in a season is rare, it had happened just three years prior when Burgettstown and Beth-Center met as 8-0 teams in Fredericktown. That game ended in a tie.
“The electricity in the (Wash High) stadium was crazy,” Gregg recalled. “The crowd ratcheted it up. There was pressure. The buzz in the air was tremendous.
“Of course, you get excited to see that level of football with two teams that showed all season they know how to win and were headed to play one another with a championship on the line. That definitely gets you cranked up and excited. It was a great match up. Sometimes those matchups don’t end up being a great game. That was a great game.”
What he said
The coaches of both teams were cautious and complementary in their assessments of the game in the week leading up to the showdown.
Guy Montecalvo of Washington and Bob Hodgson of Charleroi were veterans and coached good teams prior to 1989.
This game presented unique challenges. This is what the coaches said prior to the contest in a published report in the Observer-Reporter.
Montecalvo on the Cougars:
- “This is the type of thing you dream about. This is why you compete, to get into situations like this.”
- “It’s a compelling matchup. Their great size and two outstanding backs against some of our quickness. It’s almost a David and Goliath type thing. They have us outmanned as far as size. And they also have great speed to go with it.”
- “Charleroi has big people who have agility, move well and are extremely well-coached up front. They really come off the ball and always seem to know who they want to block. Rayburn is a big-play guy and doesn’t get the attention he deserves. He can get deep, he runs reverses and is just a fine player.
Hodgson on the Little Prexies:
- “This is an unusual situation. To have two undefeated teams playing this late in the season is unusual.”
- “Wash High is very quick in nearly every area. I don’t think we’ve seen that much speed on one club in quite a while. They have quick trench people. The tight end looks good and those two backs aren’t exactly slouches. And Milligan is all over the place. You never know where he is going to be.”
- “They have improved in all areas from last year. Their linebackers and defensive backs are tough. And Merriweather is a tough nut.”
The Game of the Century
With all the offensive talent and explosiveness on the field, it came down to defense.
Fittingly, the respective defensive coordinators’ hand prints were all over the game. Veteran coaches, the late Matt Midea of Wash High, and the late Lou DeFelices of Charleroi, built tremendous units. It showed. Midea missed the game, suffering a mild heart-attack the Sunday prior to the showdown.
“It was a hard-fought, smash-mouth, trash-talking kind of game,” said Wash High defensive back David Sadler. “We were all kind of amped up and ready to play.
“I remember Harding being bigger than us (defensive backs). He was like a man playing against boys. I remember just looking at him and thinking, ‘Wow.’
“One of the great things about playing football at Wash High then was even when we were outmanned, we didn’t know it. We had so many good athletes that any given moment we could beat you. We were convinced nobody would beat us. We felt we’d be bigger than the challenge and somebody would always step up when it was needed. Both teams played that game to its completion. It was two titans going at it to the end.”
The teams traded hits and big defensive plays through the first half.
The two biggest plays of the half happened late in the second quarter.
Merriweather stuffed Harding on a fourth-and-one from the Wash High 18-yard-line.
Rayburn intercepted a Milligan pass at the end of the quarter with the Prexies marching. Rayburn, it seemed, had a chance to return the pick for a touchdown. But Milligan managed to get him to run out of bounds as the half ended.
“The excitement of the game, being in the trenches for that and realizing all the hard work we all put in is what competing is all about,” said Edwards. “We were friends and competitors. Often times in a game like that, not too many points are scored because the preparation, the effort and the talent was so even.”
Wash High finally made a breakthrough early in the fourth quarter when Jim Fields scored on an eight-yard run with 11:54 remaining.
The Cougars just couldn’t crack the Prexies’ defense. Harding managed to rush for 103 yards and Milchovich added 45 yards. Charleroi could not generate anything in the passing game.
Merriweather recorded three sacks but anytime DeiCas did find a crack, Wash High had an answer.
“Wash High had more speed than we did,” DeiCas said. “They were a little quicker. I thought we were a little tougher. But they had Marvin and I remember distinctly to this day, I had Rayburn breaking open on a post; it was clean. Then, Marvin just smacked me in the back and the ball ended up being a duck landing in the middle of the field. Believe me, it’s a different game without that guy (Merriweather).”
The Prexies would need one last stand in the game’s final minute to secure the victory and a conference championship.
The Cougars partially blocked a punt and took over at the Wash high 43. A face mask penalty after a sack moved it to the Prexies’ 34.
A DeiCas pass completion resulted in a two-yard loss and DeiCas was sacked on the next play. The game ended when DeiCas hit Rayburn for a seven-yard gain to the 36 as time expired.
In all, DeiCas was sacked six times and the Cougars did not complete a pass until there was just 27 seconds left in the game.
“It was the biggest crowd I had ever seen at a high school football game,” Ray said. “It seemed that everyone in both communities were excited. It was a disappointment. We were so close to doing something special.
“It was so hard-hitting and intense, the best game I was ever involved in. They just shut us down. In the second half, they completely stopped us. We were not able to move the ball. They just kept coming at us.”