“It was a huge disappointment,” Raiders tackle Bucky Edenfield remembered. “That game knocked us out because of Gardner Points right from the start.”
The game at Johnstown in 1964 was played under some really bad
“The rain made the field a muddy mess,” Raiders end John Hull recalled. “The official would actually hold the ball until you got out there. It was really bad. It was bad for us because, back then with Gardner Points, it knocked us out of the playoffs. We only had 14 points scored on us the rest of the year. I’m proud of that.”
“We were building toward another championship,” Uniontown Coach Leon Kaltenbach stated. “The tie with Johnstown in 1964 was tough. The conditions were horrendous and it was disappointing to travel all that way to play that kind of a game. It was very disappointing, but the kids came back and then we had a great season.”
Uniontown built on that setback in 1964 and forged one of the greatest teams in WPIAL history in 1965.
Uniontown’s mighty 1965 WPIAL AA champions earned the highest numerical index ever in Dr. Roger B. Saylor’s Pennsylvania scholastic football ratings. The Red Raiders played and defeated many of the WPIAL’s strongest teams in the regular season, then came from behind to conquer what may have been Butler’s best ever team by 14-7 in a great AA title game at Pitt Stadium.
“Leon Kaltenbach was a great coach,” Former Raider great Ray Parson stated. “We were coached like college kids in high school and we had that kind of discipline when we went to college. So it wasn’t hard for us to make adjustments to get into different schemes and different offenses and defenses.”
“Kaltenbach was a great coach, but you don’t realize that until after it’s over,” Edenfield reported. “He had good assistant coaches and he always had us well prepared. We knew what was going on when we went into a game.”
During the 1965 regular season, Uniontown had trailed tough Washington 7-0 at the half but came back to prevail over the Little Prexies, 13-7. At Mt. Lebanon, the Blue Devils drove to the Red Raider five to open the game. The home team lost the ball and the rest of the game was all Uniontown as the Raiders won, 20-0. Penultimate opponent Brownsville had eliminated Clairton from the AA race the previous week, but Phil Vassar scored three times as the Red Raiders rolled, 29-0.
In the season finale, Uniontown faced unbeaten Trinity before a standing room only crowd at W & J’s College Field in Washington. The Raiders were not to be denied as Wilfred Minor threw for 103 yards and intercepted a Hiller pass. Uniontown won the showdown, 32-6.
Some of Uniontown’s numbers from the 1965 season are phenomenal.
The Red Raider defense had four shutouts and gave up 7 points only once (13) to Redstone. Uniontown’s offense rolled up 252 total points in ten games and the defense surrendered 47 points.
“My junior season in 1965 was special,” Hull said. “We had a little more points scored on us that year. After 20, I quit counting, but we played some good teams and beat Washington by a touchdown, and then and we went down and played Trinity. They were undefeated going into the last game of the year, and we whipped them handily. Then the big game was at Pitt Stadium against Butler, and I’ll never forget that one.”
In the 1965 AA epic at Pitt, the Red Raiders fell behind Butler and its Saul brothers, Rich and Ron, 7-0 in the first half. With the game tied a 7-7. Uniontown got the ball back on a punt at its own 13-yardline. The Red Raiders started a decisive drive that covered 87 yards in just nine plays.
Halfback Ray Gillian scored the winning touchdown, Gillian sweeping right behind the blocking of fullback Phil Vassar and halfback Trip Radcliffe, cut back and, with Vassar and Radcliffe taking down more would-be Butler tacklers, raced in for the winning touchdown.
Red Raider quarterback Wilfred Minor remembers the winning play vividly.
“I couldn’t forget it – it’s 28 pitch sweep,” Minor gushed. “It was one of our power plays. There was great blocking on the play, Ray Parson, Bucky Edenfield, Joey Croftcheck the right side of the line. Our whole line Terry Brady, John Hull, Sal Mercandante, our whole line was just a tough line and everybody carried out their assignments. We won the championship with great effort from everybody. We won it late, you’ve got to play hard and play four quarters.”
In the game, Gillian had gained 112 rushing yards on 18 carries and caught five passes for 41 more. The Butler Golden Tornado were held to only two first downs in the second half.
Gillian scored the winning touchdown on a bum ankle.
“The ankle had a slight fracture,” he recalled. “I’m not sure when it occurred, but it was probably somewhere around the third or fourth quarter and if you see any tapes you can see that there is a slight limp in the gate, but I was able to play and we found out probably about three days after the game that there was a fracture there. I don’t remember a lot about the play. I remember going out wide and cutting up the field and going all the way. It was very late in the game and Butler was a great opponent, but we had a good group of guys and we just wanted to win that championship.”
“The 1965 championship game was a great game,” Kaltenbach remembered. “It was amazing the talent that was on the field for both teams. Our conditioning really paid off late in that game. I also think that we weren’t going to be denied that victory. I just knew that it was a matter of time and we wore them down and with about two minutes left we run that sweep with Ray Gillian and win the game. It was a phenomenal game, it was as good as any college game that you would want to see.”
It has been 45 years since that championship season, but great accomplishments never die. The 1965 Uniontown team will be inducted in the Big School category into the second class of the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame on June 26.
“I’m very, very proud and happy that team is being recognized,” Kaltenbach offered. “I’ll tell you, in my lifetime and it’s been a long one, I have never been around a group of guys the quality of those guys; every last one of them was unbelievable. It’s just like God put this team together and made it what it was. They had quality that you don’t find today.”