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The Buffaloes’ 1963 bowl game

Manteca High took on the role of David to flatten Berkeley

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POSTED November 7, 2010 1:14 a.m.
Editor’s note: Eron Grisham submitted the following in recognition of the quality play of the current Manteca High football play this year and reminiscent of a special year in MHS athletic history.

In an era of non-existent playoffs, when a quality high school football program could only revel in a conference title if it was good enough to finish on top, Manteca High’s 1962 gridiron squad awarded itself with a post-season contest against a formidable rival from the Bay Area, just to see how good their team really was.

The landscape of the Valley Oak League was a little different in those days.  It was the age of President John F. Kennedy and the emergence of a new rock group from England called the Beatles.  And, it was a VOL whose makeup included only one team from the city of Manteca, namely the MUHS (Manteca Union High School) Buffaloes, the only secondary school in town.

The Valley Oak League, in 1962, was comprised of Manteca, Oakdale and Sonora (today’s holdovers), Ceres, Atwater, Tracy and Lincoln High of Stockton.  The Manteca/Tracy rivalry was one of most hotly contested in the San Joaquin Valley, rivaled only by Oakdale and Sonora’s decades long feud that persists to the present day.

Despite a controversial loss to the Turlock Bulldogs in the second game of the season, 7-6, the Buffs marched through the VOL and the rest of its schedule undefeated with an offensive and defensive precision matched by few teams of its time. The only blemish, the Turlock loss that some said should not have occurred.  The Buffaloes’ hard-nosed fullback, Greg Wisby, crossed the plain of the goal line to score what should have been the winning touchdown.  But, when Wisby landed on the back of a teammate in the end zone, he fumbled.  Turlock recovered and officials awarded the ball to the Bulldogs, negating the score.  It was a hard pill to swallow.

Motivated by the seeming injustice, Manteca went on an unprecedented win streak, one perhaps equaled by subsequent Buffalo football teams, most notably by the current 2010 version of the green and white.  After opening the season with a 38-6 win over CCC (a Division l conference at the time) and the loss to Turlock, the Buffs opened VOL play by shutting out Oakdale.  It was one of three shutouts for Manteca on the season, whipping Ceres 53-0 and closing out VOL competition with a 21-0 whitewashing of Tracy.  For the season, the VOL champs scored 248 points and allowed just 48.

Coach Phil  Harmon’s no nonsense approach
Legendary head coach Phil Harmon, a Texas Tech graduate, promoted a no-nonsense approach to coaching football.  His reputation as a taskmaster, a tough, in-your-face style of coach translated to aggressive, hard-hitting execution by his players.  He molded his charges into solid units, performing at high levels with precision and force.  It was Texas-style football brought west.   Harmon’s legacy at Manteca High School remains a standard by which subsequent coaches have been judged.

Typical of Harmon-coached teams, there were no super stars, no player who stood out above the rest.  This 1962 team was such a group.  Sure, there were a number of good athletes, some of whom  would indeed excel later in Division I, like senior tackle Larry Lathrop and senior half back Mike Dadasovich, this was a unified bunch that was accomplished in multiple sports and put it all together on the gridiron under Coach Harmon’s tutelage.  

Lathrop went on to Cal-Berkley, starring in the NCAA wrestling tournament as finalist in the heavyweight ranks.  Dadasovich performed for the decimated, re-building Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, football team, which had lost its entire team in a plane crash in 1960.

Along with the slashing styles of Dadasovich and Wisby, who were more power runners, the running attack in 1962 was anchored by senior George Locke and speedster Don Carney.  Locke was solid muscle and ran that way.  He added speed that sparked a running attack to delight any fan.  Locke, the VOL’s most valuable player in 1962, led the team in yardage gained on the ground and in touchdowns for this high-scoring offense.

For all its talents in the backfield, the Buffs’ offense was led in 1962 by junior quarterback Paul Goodwin.  Blessed with a good arm and a deft touch, Goodwin was a master of mixing up the pass and handing off to his talented backs.  Ken Uehling, a senior wide receiver whose tall, lean frame disguised his toughness and his ability to take a hit.  Uehling had no fear over the middle and made many a catch in a crowd when it mattered.  Sneaky fast, the veteran wide out had a penchant for going deep to take in a smartly thrown ball by Goodwin.

Another tough guy was junior Lowell Grissom.  At tight end, Grissom was a formidable blocker with good hands.  But, his biggest asset on this team was on defense where he would line up at defensive end.  Any opposing player who drew Grissom on a blocking assignment was immediately at a disadvantage.  Except for Locke, perhaps, there was no one stronger on the 1962 team than Lowell Grissom, who would swat off blockers like they were nagging gnats to get to the quarterback.  

For as good as the offense was, the defense was probably better.  With the offense tallying touchdown after touchdown on its way to the league championship, the defense was grudgingly giving up a yard, maybe two, or so it seemed.     Senior Dennis Correia, Lathrop and Grissom manned the line, going both ways.  All-VOL performers, Dan Bishop and Ray Denuit solidified the line play.  Wisby doubled as a linebacker on defense and Locke manned a secondary deep in tough farms kids from Lathrop and French Camp.  This team was solid and full of toughness.

MHS dominated the VOL opposition
This was a defense that just a year earlier in the final game of the season had put a stop to a high-powered Tracy Bulldog offense led by legendary running back and star athlete Nick Eddy, recently named to the Sac-Joaquin Athletic Hall of Fame.  Eddy, on his way to a near Heisman Trophy career at Notre Dame, would later star in the NFL with the Detroit Lion.  The junior-laden MUHS team, with a sophomore at quarterback in Goodwin, had engineered a 42-24 victory over the Bulldogs and their hall of fame coach, Bill Schneider, on the Bulldogs’ home turf.  Now, a seasoned defense, the 1962 squad was dominating the VOL opposition.  

As it became apparent that the Buffaloes were becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Valley Oak League and on the verge of running the table with one-sided victories over conference competition, Harmon, athletic director Arte Fairbanks and school administrators sought to reward the team with a post-season game, one that would challenge this group and give them a sense of how good they really were.

Post season tournaments in basketball were a part of the regular athletic landscape in the 1960s, but beyond this type of post season participation, it was not like it is today.  Individual sports such as, wrestling, track, tennis and golf (where it existed) had some section and state competitions, subsequent to league play.  But, football, no way.  The CIF had not instituted playoff football.  It was scarce, if not non-existent in those days, like the three-point shot in basketball.  It was years down the road before continued play became a routine for athletic programs in California.

Manteca Buffs took on gigantic Berkeley High
But, the Manteca program was still playing after the final VOL contest against Tracy in 1962.  The administration was able to manipulate, at the relentless urging of Harmon and the coaching staff, the scheduling of a postseason contest with a school nearly four times its size.  How good was Manteca High’s football team?  It was about to find out.  Berkeley High School had accepted the game and agreed to come to the valley to play the high-flying Buffaloes.

Berkeley High School had an enrollment in those days of around 4,000 students.  Manteca was lucky to have 1,200 students enrolled and that was with four classes, freshman through senior.  Berkeley High was a three year school with no freshman.  The game seemed like a mismatch.

The Yellowjackets arrived on campus with 42 city-dwelling high school football players.  Their crimson and gold uniforms glistened in the fall afternoon sun.  It was a Saturday game, perhaps the first in school history for Manteca.  Manteca High had had some memorable games with Bay Area teams, most notably with Vallejo High in the 1950s, a rivalry that ended abruptly when, in their final meeting at Manteca, concluded with a mammoth brawl between opposing players and fans.

This game in 1962 was a “goodwill game”.  Efforts were made to insure propriety.  A post-game dinner was set up to encourage sportsmanship and lending, unwittingly, some validity to the idea that the contest was a high school “bowl” game.  Playing the game on Saturday added to that feel.

There was a lot of hype prior to the game. David and Goliath kind of talk pervaded.  Berkeley High was coming in with spectacular press.  Their quarterback was a thoroughbred from football stock.  Ed Cagle, Jr. was being highly touted as a NCCA recruit of a number of Division I schools, Cal-Berkeley among them.  He had the passing prowess, it was said, of any quality college quarterback in the country. Cagle was your prototypical signal caller, a tall, good-looking preppie with a cannon for an arm, capable of carving up some upstart “hick” of a team from the valley.  

As with most highly promoted games, which can fizzle because of the over hype, so was it with this game.  The losing team was definitely overmatched in this contest.  Right from the start the speed of the Bay Area visitors was evident.  But, their quickness could not compete with the muscle, strength and toughness of the “farm” boys from the country.

Buffs dominated from the outset
The Buffaloes dominated from the outset of the game.   Cagle was on his backside during much of the contest.  The hard hitting of the Buff secondary had seemingly taken the Yellowjackets’ speedy receivers out of the game, making them tentative for passes over the middle.  Cagle could not adjust and mounted a modest offense through the air.  The Buffalo defensive line stifled the running game.  Meanwhile, Locke, Dadasovich, Goodwin and offensive company were marching up and down the field, scoring at will.  Final score of the “Manteca Country Bowl”, Buffaloes 42 Berkeley 7!

Maybe the Berkeley Yellowjackets were not a powerhouse in 1962.  Just maybe the Buffs would have preferred to take on Turlock to vindicate themselves, but this “bowl” victory was vindication enough and certainly validation that Manteca High School had one of the best, if not the best football team in Northern California, maybe in the state.  It certainly had that feel about it back then.
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