• Penny Weichel

OC, FHS used to play twice a year all the time

(This column originally appeared in the Sept. 3, 2020 edition of The Derrick/The NewsHerald.)

Oil City and Franklin will meet twice this season – Sept. 11 and Oct. 16 – and sports editor Ed Brannon wanted to know the last time that has happened – not counting 1998 when a second meeting was a District 10 playoff game.

The answer is 1944.

Since 1896, the first year either school fielded a football team, they played twice a lot -- usually an October meeting and the other an end-of-November/Thanksgiving type affair. I counted 23 such seasons, including 11 straight from 1921-31.

Probably the big upset, or at least most painful for either squad, came in 1930. The Oilers, who had beaten Franklin 20-6 on Oct. 11, were 7-0 and coming off a huge 38-6 win over Sharon when they took on the Nurserymen (that was Franklin’s nickname then) on Nov. 27.

But the game ended in a 0-0 tie, much to the glee of the Nursery. The game was played before 2,500 freezing fans (6 degrees) at Miller-Sibley Field, where four inches of snow covered the turf. Both teams tried nothing but line plunges and fumbled a lot.

Smallest schedule since…

Franklin and Oil City are each scheduled to play six games during this pandemic season. Since 1921 they have routinely played eight- to 10-game slates. Oil City played only seven times in 1955 when the Meadville game was canceled due to poor field conditions at Mitchell Avenue Field. The last time the Oilers played as few as six games – not counting the first pandemic season of 1918 -- was 1914; for Franklin it was 1920.

Oil City played three games in 1918, Franklin one.

Butler’s woes

Franklin was originally slated to play Butler this season, but now that game is off the books since D-10 schools are playing region-only schedules.

This was interesting to me due to Butler’s recent grid history. Butler has had as many as 2,000 students in the top three grades, but hasn’t had a winning season since 1997, is 41-149 since 2000 and is winless the last two years. And this is a school that once produced such talents as QB Terry Hanratty (Notre Dame) and All-American linemen Rich and Ron Saul at Michigan State.

Butler wanted out of the WPIAL and got its wish in January when D-10 accepted it as an associate member that would be eligible for the D-10 Class 6A playoffs.

Jim Rankin, a coaching legend at North Allegheny (144 wins), couldn’t do anything in his one season at Butler and neither could Clyde Conti who won 181 games and four district titles in 22 seasons at Clarion-Limestone and seven more at Slippery Rock High.

After Slippery Rock, “I thought I’d be done,” Conti told me in a phone conversation last May. He was at Butler from 2011-13, but could manage only a 7-21 mark – although his 2012 squad was a respectable 4-6 and made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1998.

But when Butler followed that with a 1-8, the powers that decided that was enough. “I’d probably be still there if they hadn’t opened up the job,” Conti said.

Conti said he tried everything to get the job done at Butler, including luring athletes out from the myriad of the school’s other successful athletic programs, but to no avail. They had 185-pound kids at tackle, which doesn’t cut it in 6A. What’s more, only 40 players turned out for the team in 2019, when it ended the campaign dressing only 24.

But Conti is confident that two of his proteges at C-L – head coach Eric Christy and offensive coordinator Todd Smith – can get the job done. The Tornado has a pretty good junior quarterback and more beef on the line.

“Sometimes you just have to change the mindset, the culture,” Conti said. “They just need a win.”

All Over the Map

As usual, Conti was all over the map during this phone conversation. To wit:

· Curwensville – “That place has the popcorn.”

· Jence Rhoads – The daughter of former Oil City star Melinda Hale once kicked a 38-yard field goal in Powder Puff football.

· Rich Kindel – The former C-L star has a son, Zack, who was a walk-on wide receiver at Virginia. (You had to see it to believe it, but Rich was an absolute Houdini on the football field for C-L in the 1980s.)

Conti went from Butler to Slippery Rock University, where he served as an assistant through 2018. He still helps out with sports around town.

Hall of Famers

Conti, a 2005 inductee, is one eight former Clarion County coaches in the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

The others are Robert Moore, Clarion, 1988; Bernie McQuown, Clarion, 1993; Rich Vidunas, Union, 2003; Larry Wiser, Clarion, 2011; Norm Zwald, Clarion, 2014; Terry Henry, East Brady, 2017 (Jim Kelly’s high school coach); and Dave Moore, Redbank, 2019.

Robert Moore and Vidunas were once assistants as Franklin, and another member, Walt Nottingham of Cambridge Springs, was formerly an aide at Venango Christian.

Lou Hanna (Corry), Toby Shea (Warren) and Bob Stone (Greenville) are members and with the criteria being 15 years/100 victories, Franklin’s Dave Stewart and Oil City’s Dan York are eligible.

Stewart won an unofficial 102 games, 82 at Franklin before finishing up at Chartiers Valley in 1980. York’s record is 116-94, mostly at Lakeview. He is 28-16 and running at Oil City.

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