Spartans' 1986 football team to be honored Friday nightBack in mid-August of 1986, 97 friends, teammates and strangers began the process of learning how to be a team. Coach Larry Hoff welcomed 24 returning lettermen in that group of 56 juniors and seniors and 41 sophomores. The Spartans were looking to improve on 1985’s 7-2 record, including a 3-2 conference mark.
By: By Don Leighton, For The Telegram, Superior Telegram
To truly become a team and to expose yourself to the disciplines needed to become a good teammate, you have to give more of yourself and expect less in return.
Having played team sports for more than 30 years, what I learned, and not what was accomplished on the playing fields, is something I still use and value today.
Hard work, discipline, being able to work with others, being able to compromise, working towards a common goal with others, even if you weren’t too crazy about everyone and not worrying about individual stats but rather team stats are important lessons.
But maybe as important are the memories and friendships that will always be there. That’s what playing on a team is all about.
This is what playing for the 1986 Superior Senior High School football team was all about.
Back in mid-August of 1986, 97 friends, teammates and strangers began the process of learning how to be a team. Coach Larry Hoff welcomed 24 returning lettermen in that group of 56 juniors and seniors and 41 sophomores. The Spartans were looking to improve on 1985’s 7-2 record, including a 3-2 conference mark.
And improve they did.
A preseason scrimmage that included Columbia Heights, Rochester John Marshall and Bloomington High Schools was dominated by the Spartans.
“I was most impressed with our hitting,” Hoff said.
Hitting and physical play would become a trademark for the 1986 Spartans.
Eau Claire Memorial was the first regular season game at Carson Park in Eau Claire. As reported by Stan May in the Evening Telegram from Sept. 5, 1986, the starting line-ups would be:
“Senior Bob DeMeyer would start at quarterback (Dean Hoff was recovering from a back injury), senior Doug Anderson and junior Brian Roux were the halfbacks and junior Mark Lozon was at fullback. Senior guards were Darrin Davidson and Eric Dunning. Seniors Joe Putz and Pat Fraiser will alternate at split end; senior tight end Mark Sickler, senior tackles Mike Soyring and Pete Bachman and junior Dale Dhooge would be at center.”
“On defense, it’s Bachman and Sickler, ends; Dhooge and Davidson, tackles; Dunning, middle guard; juniors Corey Johnson and Aaron Anderson, linebackers; seniors Joe Reasbeck Jr. and Dave Garlie, cornerbacks, and Putz and Frasier, safeties.”
“Sickler will be the punter and Johnson the kicking specialist. Roux and Dunning are co-captains.”
You can’t win without a great coaching staff. In addition to Hoff, the coaching staff for Superior consisted of Steve Olson, Shawn Kavajecz, Mike Sweeney, Mark Moselle, Bob Glockner, Pat McGinnis and Rick Kennelly.
The Spartans rolled through their regular season by defeating ECM, 36-13; Ashland, 34-14; Hibbing 38-0; Duluth East, 44-12; Moorhead, 13-0; Grand Rapids, 28-7; Duluth Denfeld, 42-14; Duluth Central, 35-0; and Eau Claire North, 44-3.
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, the Spartans returned to Carson Park for first-round playoff action against La Crosse Central.
Charles Dickens, had he reported on this game, would have said, “It was the worst of halves; it was the best of halves,” as the Spartans trailed 24-0 at halftime.
“I asked the players at the half if any of them thought they could still win it and they all agreed that it could be done,” Hoff said. “I also stressed the fact that their season would be over if they lost. The players made up their own minds.”
LCC enjoyed a 264-5 advantage in total offensive yardage in the first half, but the second half was all Superior as it outscored the Red Raiders 31-6 to win 31-30 in what was arguably the greatest comeback ever by a Superior football team.
Their win catapulted them to a state semifinal meeting with the Manitowoc Ships, winners of 36 games in a row and two consecutive state D-1 championships.
The game, played in windy and ice-cold conditions in Merrill, started well for the Spartans, despite the fact that the Ships were much larger up front than Superior, which had no players over 215 pounds.
The score was tied at the half, 16-16. The Spartans were flying high and the Ships were sinking as the teams entered the warmth of the locker rooms.
The Spartans scored first after the intermission, but alas, a penalty flag and an illegal use of hands took Anderson’s 35-yard running touchdown off the boards. The rest, as they say, is history.
Costly turnovers gave the Ships too many opportunities and they shutout the Spartans 24-0 in the second half to win the game, 40-16. Manitowoc defeated Milwaukee Tech for the state championship the following week, 28-20, for its third straight title.
“The 1986 Spartan football team was composed of some great players who have turned into great adults,” Hoff said. “They were such a pleasure to coach and I consider them to be my friends to this very day. What they accomplished during that magical season bordered on the unbelievable. By finishing the regular season undefeated, we achieved a couple of our goals; we won the conference and qualified for the playoffs. We eventually lost to Manitowoc in the state semifinals. They were ranked No. 5 in the nation, but we were confident we could defeat them for a date in the state championship. If that TD in the third quarter would have stood, who knows what could have happened.
“It was a very special year, but even more special to me as a father, since my three sons were involved. Ryan was the ball boy, Dean was my quarterback and Eric was a lineman. The memories of that season, those players and having my sons with me will never fade.”
Praise was also given the Spartans by Manitowoc’s Jeff Miller, a 6-foot-4, 275 pound tackle.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Miller said at the time. “But once the game started, I knew Superior had come to play football because they were really hitting. It was probably one of the most physical games we’ve played so far this year.”
Ron Rubic, in his 19th year as coach of Manitowoc, said the nullified touchdown turned things around.
“That was the key play,” Rubic said. “I was really worried for a while in the third quarter because they were moving the ball against that wind. To tell you the truth, I was worried all week because I know how explosive the wishbone offense can be. We just got the key breaks.”
Lozon summed up his memories of that magical season.
“At the beginning of the year we knew as teammates we had a special bond, chemistry and talent to do great things,” Lozon said. “We had success because the coaching staff had instilled a system in us that we practiced day in and day out until it was like clockwork. We worked very hard every day on the practice field so game days were fun, exciting and rewarding.
“We didn’t feel any pressure to perform because we had confidence in our own abilities and each other to just play loose, do our very best and make our coaches, parents, and fans proud to be a Superior Spartan. After all, ‘Once a Spartan, always a Spartan.’”
What a season, what memories, what friendships, what a team. Had Charles Dickens been there, it would have been written as, “The Best of Times.”
vs. River Falls
The Spartans play their first home game of the season when they host the River Falls Wildcats at 7 p.m. today at Ole Haugsrud Field.
Superior, 1-1 overall and 1-0 in the Big Rivers Conference, defeated Rhinelander 20-7 and lost to Eau Claire Memorial 14-0.
River Falls, 2-0 and 1-0, hasn’t allowed a point yet this season with wins over New Richmond, 20-0, and Eau Claire North, 36-0.
“Our defense will need to rise to the occasion again,” DeMeyer said. “River Falls has put a lot of points on the board their first two games with a very versatile offense.
“We’ll also have to improve significantly with our execution on offense and special teams. Last week we just didn’t execute consistently. We made some uncharacteristic mistakes again and they were very costly. We’ve worked hard this week on being focused, fundamentally sound and finishing. When these kids put things together, play with confidence and to their potential, they’ll be tough for anyone to stop.”
SPARTAN SPIN: The Spartans will be without senior captain Trent Olson, who suffered a broken arm against ECM and is expected to miss the rest of the season. … Tonight’s game will be carried live on the internet at ifan.com.
The SHS DECA program will hold its annual tailgate party prior to tonight’s game. The event runs from 5 to 6 p.m. and costs $3. All proceeds will be donated to Second Harvest-Northland.
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