1994 PIAA AA STATE CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL TEAM
- Post by: mcalibrary
- January 12, 2024
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Expectations entering the 1994 football season at MCA were obviously high. The Tornadoes, under second year head coach Whitey Williams, were returning 20 lettermen, no less than 12 starters at 17 positions, record-breaking pass-catch combo Mike Higgins and Joel Gonzalo, and an attitude and mindset to succeed. They had lost the District XI AAA championship game to Allentown Central Catholic and were going to compete at the AA level for the first time.
They began their season with three consecutive wins through the “Valley Tour” in wins over Tamaqua, Panther Valley and Marian Catholic by a combined scored of 132-14. The Tornadoes then got by traditional rival Shamokin by a score of 21-18 for their first win over the Indians in 5 seasons. What happened next came as a total surprise, but may have been the catalyst to the rest of their season. The Tornadoes lost a slugfest to Montoursville by a 13-12 score in a hot, misty, cramp-filled night. That lead to a meeting organized by the seniors that continued to be known as “Pride Night” – where the players vowed to not lose another game. Big Red followed it up with a 34-7 shellacking of Hanover Area and set up the meeting with rival North Schuylkill. The Spartans entered the game at 6-0 and had only given up 33 points in the season. The Tornadoes took care of business and had scored 29 by halftime on the way to a 42-0 rout. The Tornado defense, upstaged most of the season by the Spartans, held North Schuylkill to minus 54 total yards and prompted Coach Rick Geist to say that they were ‘just beat up physically.’
The Tornadoes then dismantled Shikellamy by a 24-7 score and set up one of the closest wins of the season, a 14-10 win over Blue Mountain highlighted by a Mike Higgins to Brett Veach 70 yard touchdown pass late in the game. A six-turnover, 11-penalty sleep-walk win over Townada set up the District Championship game with Catasauqua., The Rough Riders had only allowed 64 point during their 10-0 season and were playing at home The Big Red defense again paved the way, holding Catty to 78 total yards, including -7 rushing, as the Tornadoes prevailed by a 19-0 score. It was the first Mount Carmel Area Championship since the 1973 15-8 win over Dunmore( the Tornado in the sky game). The Tornadoes would then win their first-ever state playoff game with a 41-22 win over the District I champion Lansdale Catholic.
That set up what is often considered the most pivotal game in MCA history against Dallas, They were the defending AA state champions and were riding a 24 game winning streak. The Mountaineers had only given up 29 points all season, but ended up giving up 21 in the first half as Higgins hit Gonzalo with a 38 TD on the opening series. Then came one of the most famous plays in Tornado lore as Higgins ht his brother Eric with a 15 yard touchdown toss on a fake field goal with one second on the clock in the half. It was set up with Brett Veach’s 34 yard gain on a shuffle pass and stepping out of bounds with one second on the clock. All of the elation came to and end as Cocalico jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the Eastern final at North Schuylkill. The defense, led by linebackers Shawn Sheptock and Joey Costello, down linemen Gratti, Rohrbach, Hepler, Burns and Pultynovich shut down 1000 yard rushers Brubaker and Hall the rest of the way and the Tornado offense went on to score 35 points on 20 plays in 7:08.
Altoona was the destination for 1000’s of fans, including 20 bus loads of loyal followers and the Tornadoes in their first-ever modern-day state championship game with Forrest Hills. Coach Williams and his staff finally came to the conclusion that they were watching themselves in studying game film of the Rangers. Tailback #22, wide receiver #88, multiple formations, trips, motion. The weather changed everything for both teams, but in the end – a 7 yards run by QB Mike Higgins in the second overtime – gave MCA its state championship by a 20-14 score. The offensive line of Ryan Geary, John Yastishak, Jamie Rowland, Dave Baksi and Bill Anderson hepled the Tornadoes to 286 yards in offense while the secondary of Joe Wargo, Dave Evans, Veach and Gonzalo set a state championship record with 5 interceptions. Burns, Sheptock, Higgins and Gonzalo earned first team all state honors and Williams was named PIAA coach of the year, as the Tornadoes joined Southern Columbia and Berwick in winning state championships for the “Coal Region”
More than anything else, the 94 team would lay down the blue print for future state champions. They did it all on the road, most of the time as underdogs. They did it with balance, running, passing and defense. The defense only allowed 616 rushing in their first 12 games, surpassing the 784 given up by the 1970 championship team. 24 interceptions was the 3rd best ever. Offensively, the 117 completions ranked as the best ever and the 449 points scored was second only to the 1969 team. The 1994 team established many firsts, many memorable games, and a host of iconic plays which will forever go down as one the Tornadoes finest teams to wear the red and white.