The magic could be back at Juniata
Walt Nadzak has a phone call to make. The 78-year-old retiree doesn’t understand why it is so hard for the Sunday newspaper in Charleston, S.C., to include the score of the previous day’s Juniata football game. If the paper had included the Eagles’ finals in its weekly list of college football scores, Nadzak would find the team he once coached in a familiar spot through the first three weeks of the 2013 season: just look to the left.
Juniata is unblemished through three games this season. The program had not won three games in a season since 2003. It is fitting that the program has shown signs of a resurgence in the same year in which it is honoring the 1973 Stagg Bowl team coached by Nadzak. The then-Indians lost the inaugural Division III championship to Wittenberg 40 years ago, but the memories remain in Huntingdon, Pa.
“That was kind of magical year,” said Nadzak, who coached the Indians from 1969 to 1977 (the school changed its nickname in 1994).
Nadzak was also the athletic director during that time, before he left to become the head coach the University of Connecticut. He then spent several years as the athletic director at The Citadel in Charleston, where he stayed after retiring in 2000. He still cherishes the memories of his time at Juniata and in Division III.
“There was a real interest in football locally in those days,” said Nadzak. “We drew a lot of people to games, which was encouraging.”
One of those people was a young Tim Launtz. The Huntingdon native grew up just two blocks from the college campus. He walked to every home football game during that 1973 season. He was a sophomore in high school and spent summers working out with some of the local college players. The ringing of the bell in Founders Hall around 4 p.m. on an autumn Saturday let Launtz and other locals know when Juniata won a road game.
“I remember the [regular season] win over Ithaca, which was a good program,” said Launtz. “That really set a tone for that ‘73 team.”
A few years later, Launtz was a student at Juniata serving as a volunteer assistant coach. The 1980 Juniata graduate later spent 15 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater. He was named head coach in 2011, and immediately set out to restore the history and tradition of the program.
“We talk about the Juniata men who have come before us,” said Launtz, whose first win as head coach came in the final week of the 2011 season. “We tell the players that we all drink from a well that we didn’t dig. We want to dig deeper for the players that come after us.”
Launtz spends many hours rebuilding the program from the Gary Shope Football Office, named after the quarterback of the 1973 team who has been generous with his efforts to help restore the program’s luster. Many of the players and coaches from that team remain a presence in and around Huntingdon. Juniata Hall of Famers Carmen DeFrancesco and Stu Jackson are two of the other players from that 1973 team who have helped support Launtz and the program.
“We want our players to understand the tradition and history here,” said Launtz, who has now won seven games as the Eagles’ head coach.
After Nadzak moved on from Juniata, Dean Rossi took over the program. He was the offensive coordinator in 1973 and the program’s head coach from 1977 to 1979. Like Nadzak, he has fond memories of that memorable season.
“We had a bunch of kids who were scrappers and we blended well together,” said Rossi. “The whole school just enjoyed the moment.”
Stagg Bowl I was held in Phenix City, Ala. According to Rossi, nearly the entire Juniata campus showed up to send the team off to Alabama. Once they arrived in Phenix City, they were feted like any other big bowl team.
“They did a great job of promoting and planning [Stagg Bowl I],” said Nadzak. “They treated us like we were going to the Rose Bowl.”
This year’s squad is honoring the 1973 team in a few different ways. The Eagles wear a Block-J with 1973 inside of it on their helmets and on their practice shirts. The school is counting down the top 10 moments of that season each week. There will be a reunion and celebration October 25-27. The early-season victories are also a nice tribute.
“I’m really happy for them,” said Nadzak. “Athletics there is in the proper perspective, the way they ought to be.”
The first night of preseason camp, Launtz and the coaching staff talked to the current players about the team that made history 40 years ago. There is a team photo of the Stagg Bowl team in the football office and the Eagles were encouraged to take a long, hard look at what this program is capable of accomplishing.
“We told our players to look into the eyes of those men in the picture,” said Launtz. “All they wanted to do was compete and play for Juniata. Walt brought a great era of football here in the ‘70’s.”
Led by junior quarterback Ward Udinski, the Eagles are off to their best start since winning their first four games in 2002. Udinski has passed for 290 yards per game and tossed eight touchdowns passes, and added 62 yards rushing per game and five rushing scores.
“There is something about this group of kids. They care for one another and that can carry you a long way,” said Launtz. “We’re further ahead than we expected to be at this point. There’s a real excitement. I hope everyone is enjoying it.”
The excitement does not yet rival that of 40 years ago, but if the Eagles can win their next two games, against Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins, the aura of 1973 will almost certainly return to Huntingdon. That kind of success may seem far away for program that won just 13 games in the past nine seasons entering this year. No matter how this season ends, the Eagles have shown that the program is on the right track. For those who played an important role on that Stagg Bowl team, the memories will last a lifetime.
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had in coaching,” said Rossi, who has spent decades as a high school coach and athletic director. “The excitement that we created in that small town and going to the first ever national championship game, we’ll take that to our graves.”
Juniata's 1973 Stagg Bowl team.
Emory and Henry quarterback Kyle Boden completed 29 of 31 passes for 382 yards and five touchdowns with one interception to lead the Wasps to their third straight win of the season. That’s good for a Division III record completion percentage of 93.5. Boden ranks just behind Udinski in points produced per game, with both in the top seven in the nation. Udinski has accounted for 13 touchdowns, while Boden has accounted for 12 so far (1 rushing, 12 passing).
Breaking the streak
On Sept. 14, McDaniel defeated Moravian to earn the program’s first win since an Oct. 29, 2011 victory over Juniata. It was Mike Hoyt’s first win as head coach of the Green Terror, and could be the start of a turnaround for the once-proud program. It took Launtz nearly a year to earn his first win as Juniata’s head coach, but he felt that that first victory was a springboard. “That win against Susquehanna [on Nov. 12, 2011] showed the team that it’s capable of winning,” said Launtz. “I think that really propelled us forward.” Maybe Hoyt will be able to look back at the win over Moravian and say the same in a year or two.
Huntingdon embarked on a 99-yard touchdown drive to cap a fourth quarter comeback win over Louisiana College. Taylor Hughes, a 6-foot-5 receiver, hauled in the winning score with 1:18 remaining…Andy Jones plunged in from two yards out with just 36 seconds left to lift Southern Virginia to a 33-30 victory over Virginia-Lynchburg. The Knights have a knack for the dramatic. Their first win of the season came a week earlier when Davis Cragun booted a 27-yard field goal in overtime to defeat N.C. Wesleyan...Averett needed a bit of luck to hold off Guilford’s furious comeback attempt. Tyler Hunt’s 22-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left missed wide left to preserve a 30-27 victory for the Cougars. It wasn’t pretty, as the teams combined to put the ball on the turf 14 times. Guilford lost three of its 10 fumbles, and Averett lost three of its four...Dickinson scored 17 fourth quarter points, and needed every one of them to hold of Susquehanna. Crusaders receiver Kwane Hayle caught a 67-yard touchdown pass to cut the Red Devils lead to three with 31 seconds left. Colin Rodgers recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve Dickinson’s first victory of the season.
Cream of the Centennial crop
Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Sports Information Director Ernie Larossa, here is a look at just how dominant the Blue Jays and Muhlenberg have been since 2000:
NCAA Playoff Appearances
Combined NCAA & ECAC App.
CC Players of the Year (Off. & Def.)
The conference powers square off on Saturday in Baltimore. After a Sept. 14 loss at Franklin and Marshall, this game is a must-win for the Mules if they want to win the conference.