East Union plans to throw it back to the 1970s, when losses were hard to come by and names like Herrera and Taylor were still at the forefront of the football program.
The Lancers will honor its historic 1974 football team prior to Friday’s 7 o’clock kickoff.
That team was the first in school history to finish the regular season undefeated. The Lancers finished 10-0 and atop the Valley Oak League with signature victories over Oakdale (20-18), Sonora (14-7), St. Mary’s (28-8) and the program’s first-ever win against crosstown rival Manteca (30-12).
“I was fortunate enough to be the football coach at that time,” said retired administrator and former head coach Vern Gebhardt, who, along with an all-star cast of assistant coaches, guided the 1974 team to the Valley Oak League championship.
Gebhardt was helped by Dino Cunial, the stadium’s namesake, and Rick Wohle, a retired administrator with the Manteca Unified School District.
“It lined up perfectly for us. We had some great players,” Gebhardt said. “We ran the Wishbone, which was pretty unique back then. No one else was running it.”
Some would say no one has run better, no matter the offense.
The Lancers finished that season with two 1,000-yard running backs – Doug Swift and Dana Taylor – and quarterback Ron Hamamoto, slender and slight, amassed more than 800 rushing yards.
For Taylor, 1974 was the cherry on a sparkling three-year varsity career that saw him eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau each season.
East Union’s current head coach Willie Herrera’s father – also Willie Herrera – was a member of that team, as well.
“That was the most dynamic team I coached at East Union,” Gebhardt said. “It’s going to be great to see those guys. A lot of those guys will be there that were on that football team.”
The ceremony will take place before the varsity kickoff on Friday.
East Union (2-3, 3-5) hosts Weston Ranch (1-4, 2-6).
“Anytime we can stop and remember any of our past players, it’s certainly special,” head coach Willie Herrera said. “As time marches on, these opportunities to get together and remember are defining.
“My dad was a part of that. Talking to him the last few weeks, it’s fired him up and he’s starting to remember.
He’s got some good memories from that team and the coaches.”
The 1974 Lancers earned the right to step beneath those Friday night lights one last time. Their undefeated regular-season run featured a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Oakdale.
While some of the names have escaped him, the details of that thrilling victory have stuck with Gebhardt.
Trailing with 1:13 left in the game, the Lancers began their final drive at their own 20-yard line.
Without attempting a single pass, East Union covered the requisite 80 yards on the option alone.
“You don’t forget things like that,” Gebhardt said.
East Union didn’t finish the season perfect, though.
The Lancers lost a one-game playoff with Galt, the Golden Empire League champion, by two points, 24-22. In that game, Galt surged out to a 24-0 halftime lead and then held off a furious charge by East Union.
Swift tallied two touchdowns on short runs, while Taylor started the comeback with a 62-yard sprint.
Gebhardt said the Sac-Joaquin Section didn’t have a sanctioned playoff system for a school of East Union’s size in 1974.
The loss didn’t mar what East Union accomplished, nor did it taint their legacy.
Gebhardt, who has been connected with several special teams and thousands of athletes over the years, still beams when conversation turns toward the autumn of 1974.
“We worked hard to be the best physically in-shape team in the league,” Gebhardt said. “That was probably one of the hardest working teams. They put in the time and got in great shape. There were so many great players on that team.”
The school is asking all members of the 1974 football team to RSVP with coach Willie Herrera via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.