1966 Waynesburg Yellow Jackets, unbeaten national champs

1966 Waynesburg Yellow Jackets, unbeaten national champs

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Last weekend, Wisconsin-Whitewater made short order of Mount Union, 52-14, in the NCAA Division III football championship game. Wisconsin-Whitewater has been a powerhouse team for decades, but there was one team the Warhawks couldn’t beat in 1966 - Waynesburg College.

In the NAIA championship game that year, Waynesburg defeated Wisconsin-Whitewater, 42-21.

“We had a great group of guys,” said Waynesburg defensive back Eric Johnson. “Our defense played so well. It was a team made up of mostly underclassmen. We had tough kids who played well as a unit.

“We had some outstanding individuals like (wide receiver) Donnie Herrmann who went on to play in the NFL for the Giants and Saints. Joe Righetti, a defensive lineman, played for the Browns, and Dave Smith played wide receiver for the Steelers, Oilers and the Chiefs.”

Under first-year head coach Carl DePasqua, the Yellow Jackets’ offense was explosive, averaging 27 points per game while the defense allowed less than nine points per game.

While the Yellow Jackets dominated Wisconsin-Whitewater in the title game, it was the semifinal against New Mexico Highlands that surprised a few people.

“New Mexico Highlands, they were big,” said flanker Dan Dvorchak. “They had a great running back, Carl Garrett, who went to the pros, played for the Boston Patriots and beat out O.J. Simpson for rookie of the year in the AFL. Our defense held him to 50 yards.

“We were down 20-7 at half. Coach DePasqua got us pumped up. He said ‘We can beat this team. And we did.’”

Waynesburg won, 30-27, scoring on a five-yard halfback pass from Rich Dahar to tight end Bob Miltenberger with less than 10 seconds remaining.

The wipeout of Wisconsin-Whitewater, which included Dahar rushing for 233 yards on 41 carries and the Waynesburg defense holding the Warhawks to minus-39 rushing yards, was next and gave Waynesburg the only football national championship for a school from Washington or Greene counties.

The championship game was played at Skelly Stadium in Tulsa, Okla., and not many football people gave Waynesburg a chance to win, including one hall of fame coach.

Eddie Robinson of Grambling fame, whose team was an NAIA member at the time, felt the Yellow Jackets had no chance.

“Eddie was on the NAIA board of directors,” DePasqua told the Observer-Reporter in 2006. “He saw Whitewater play its first playoff game and saw them practice. He also saw us work out in Tulsa. He told me, ‘Do you know who you’re playing against? That team is sensational. They have a great passing game and will dominate you.’”

After the Yellow Jackets won, Robinson asked DePasqua for a copy of Waynesburg’s playbook.

“He wanted to see what plays we ran that kept Whitewater’s offense on the sideline,” DePasqua said.

The Waynesburg players were not intimidated by their opponents. They only had one thing that caused them some issues.

“We were nervous traveling by plane,” Johnson admitted. “Most of us never flew before we traveled in a DC-6 … four propellers. Guys were nervous as we circled around the mountains.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing was the fact that Waynesburg used two freshmen, Don Paull and John Huntey, to share the quarterback position.

“Everybody was under the impression that we had Harry Theofiledes (who played for the Redskins in 1968) that year,” DePasqua said.

“We had two freshmen who did a super job. They were really masterful. Don Paull had the overall ability. He could run and throw. John Huntey could throw and came into his own the following year.”

No one gave it a thought that 1966 would be a year worth remembering, especially with DePasqua replacing Mo Scarry, who left Waynesburg for an assistant’s job with the Washington Redskins.

“We were just hoping for a good season,” DePasqua said. “The players had to adjust to me and I had to install a new system.”

The system worked. It produced the best record in school history (11-0) and a national championship.

The veterans who led the way for the 1966 team felt that playing under Scarry prepared them for a successful year.

“Practice under Coach Scarry was awful,” Johnson said. “Joe Righetti said Scarry’s practice sessions were tougher that anything he experienced playing for the Cleveland Browns.”

For winning the championship the players were given watches.

“We went out and bought rings,” Johnson said with a laugh.

After winning the national title, nobody was laughing at Waynesburg’s football team.

The 1966 Waynesburg football team was inducted into the Washington-Greene Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Bill DiFabio writes a bi-weekly column on local sports history for the Observer-Reporter.

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