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  • January 11, 2024
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“Wait until next year!” That was the cry around the Mount Carmel area even before the start of the 1954 football season. After all, Mount Carmel High was coming off a 3-7-1 campaign in 1953 and had a team that was mainly sophomores and juniors, sprinkled with a senior here and there. Little did anyone know , that during the season to come, the Tornadoes would establish a standard of excellence that all future teams would strive to match.

The Tornadoes were led by co-captains Frank Ficca and Tom Vershinski and coached by Mike Terry and assistants George Wrona, Charle Karlow and Vic Dallabrida. They opened the ’54 season on the road at Sayre, coming from behind in the 4th period on a 58 yards touchdown pass from Wayne Kautter to Vershinski. It was the first opening game victory for the Red and White since 1949 and perhaps was a sign of things to come. The Tornadoes then did in Tamaqua by a 25-14 score as Kautter threw for 184 yards and Frank Ficca ran for three scores. Four more Kautter to Vershinski TD passes paced the Tornadoes to wins over Mahanoy City and Berwick. Glenn Wetzel scored four touchdowns at home against Kulpmont as the Tornadoes won their fifth straight. The game also marked “Homecoming”and “Walter Diehl Night” in memory of the former Tornado gridiron great.

Hurricane Hazel would then cause a delay in the showdown between the Tornado eleven and Coal Township’s Purple Demons. Playing on Saturday night at the Silver Bowl, the Tornadoes found themselves down by a 7-0 score with less then 2 minutes remaining. Two passes from Kautter to Vershinski and Ficca put the ball at the 2, where Speedy Butela took a pitch around the end to paydirt. The all-important extra point was booted by Frank Ficca and the Tornadoes escaped with a 7-7 tie. The paid attendance of 8,025 was believed to be the largest since the ’36 Thanksgiving Day battle with Shamokin, estimated at 10,000.

Wins over Pottsville – 24-12 , Ashland – 43-12, Shenandoah – 32-7 and Sunbury – 19-7 set the Tornadoes up for their annual Thanksgiving Day clash with Shamokin, Only this year, all the marbles were at stake. A win would propel the Red and White into the Eastern Conference championship game. The Tornadoes would go with their usual starting lineup of Ron Jelus and Vershinski at the end spots, Tom Revak and Bill Coyne at the tackles, Dan Ficca and Bill Luskus at the guard spots and Tom Sarisky at center. Kautter would be the quarterback, with Frank Ficca, Glenn Wetzel and Speedy Butela at the halfback spots with Bob Shannon at fullback. Mount Carmel racked up a 31-13 over Shamokin with touchdown runs from Shannon and Butela and three by Jiggs Ficca. The 10 wins in a season represented the most ever by a Tornado eleven dating back to 1893.

The Tornadoes and coach Terry then went to Scranton Memorial Stadium to take on the Invaders of West Scranton in the Eastern Confernece Championship tilt and came away with a methodical 34-13 thrashing of coach Sam Donato’s squad. Wetzel scored 2 TD’s. while Kautter and Vershinski scored one each. Ron Jelus returned a fumble 40 yards and Ficca(2), Zenyuh and Vershinski chipped in with extra points. The 34 points established a new record for most points ever scored in a championship game and the win marked Mike Terry’s 50th coaching win at Mount Carmel High School. He was also believed to be the first coach to win Championships with 2 different teams (Kulpmont – 1945).

Next year did turn out to be a great one with a 10-1 record, but it was this year – 1954 – that set the standard for all Tornado teams to come.

Categories: 2004 Hall of Fame