The 1963 GHS Ridgerunner football team was one for the ages. The squad compiled a season record of 11-3 and advanced all the way to the Class B State Championship Game. Those are heady results no matter the circumstances but they are all the more remarkable when one considers that the ’63 team was picked to finish third- at best- in their conference in the pre-season picks.
Darrell Roberts and Jerry Drake were senior All Conference players on the ’63 GHS squad. Roberts played tackle and Drake played end.
Today Drake is the owner of Drake’s Restaurant, on Main Street in Grove, while Roberts is retired and resides in Grove.
“We enjoyed one another and we all grew up together here in Grove and we were close, really close,” Drake said.
“We started playing football together in grade school on the sand lot,” Roberts added. “There weren’t any real stars on the team, everybody just worked well together.”
“We had an outstanding line,” said Drake. “We were all seniors on the line. Darrell and Mike Long were our tackles, Jerry Boyd and Raymond Dixon were our guards. Those four were outstanding linemen.”
Head coach J.E. Landon was in his first year with the Ridgerunners in ’63 and he made an impression on his players.
“Everybody respected Coach Landon,” said Roberts. “Everybody worked hard for him. He was a good coach.”
“He told me years later that we weren’t the best team he ever coached but it was the most fun team he ever coached,” said Drake. “He said we practiced just like we played. We tried to knock one another’s heads off in practice!”
Football has always had some strong themes dating all the way back to the late nineteenth century and the Oneida Football Club. Still, the nuances of the games played in the 1960’s were different than today. Games ending in a tie at the end of regulation were settled not in overtime, but by virtue of whichever team had made the most “penetrations,” or as we would call it today, trips to the “red zone.” If a tie could not be broken by that measurement then the next step would be to award the win to the team with the most first downs.
“If they still couldn’t determine a winner after that then they’d flip a coin,” said Drake.
Twice in 1963 the Ridgerunners broke a tie and earned a victory based on the second measurement, most first downs.
Both wins were key to the Ridgerunner success story as they came in two of the biggest games of the year.
The regular season match-up with Wyandotte was an essential win for the Ridgerunners in taking the ‘63 Lucky Seven Conference Championship. The Bears were the defending conference champions and had the season before advanced to the State Championship Game where they fell to Lindsay.
“The year before, in ’62, they beat us on a last second touchdown,” said Drake.
The victory over Wyandotte featured something that would become a team characteristic for the Ridgerunners in ’63: a come from behind win.
Grove was trailing 6-0 going into the fourth quarter and trailing in penetrations 2-0 and first downs, 7-6. When all was said and done the Ridgerunners had evened the scoreboard and penetration mark and held a 10-7 advantage in first downs to capture the win.
In the playoff semi-finals Grove defeated Wagoner on first downs and clinched their birth in the State Championship Game.
As with Wyandotte the Ridgerunners found themselves tied 6-6 on the scoreboard and 2-2 in penetrations but behind 8-6 in first downs against the Wagoner bunch with four minutes left in the game. Grove took the time to drive 48 yards and gather four more first downs to go ahead in that category 10-8 for the win.
“We called time-out and asked the refs how we stood,” said Drake. “So we just rattled off three or four first downs and won the game.”
“Raymond Dixon was the best high school punter that I ever saw,” Drake said. “One punt against Wagoner was 85 yards with the roll.”
“He got us out of trouble plenty of times,” said Roberts.
Official records from the time reflect the rules of the day and show that the Ridgerunners completed their season with two ties but the scoreboard above shows the results in the contemporary fashion and accurately portray the games as Grove wins. Both games, Wyandotte and Wagoner, ended with the score tied at 6 and the scores posted above are the first down margin from the game.
If the tie-breaking formula of ’63 is different from the overtime periods used today there are still some things that the vintage squad shares with the contemporary unit. For one, old Ridgerunner rivals Jay and Vinita both featured on the season tour.
“Jay was our big rival then,” Drake said. “Before that we had a good one going with Picher.”
That ’63 season featured some thrilling come from behind victories for the Ridgerunners. One of those wins came against Jenks in the second round of the playoffs when the Grove team scored 20 unanswered points, including two fourth quarter touchdowns, to come back from a 19-0 deficit and secure the one point margin.
The comeback was complete when a seven-play, 89-yard touchdown drive was capped with a successful two point conversion on a pass play from Ridgerunner quarterback Greg Spicer to end Joe Potter with three minutes left on the clock.
“We had special plays in the playoffs,” Drake said. “One of them the coach would move me into the backfield and I would line up at right halfback so I’d be on the same side of the field as Joe. The play was a fake to me on a dive play. The quarterback would fake it to me and I was to go out in the end zone.
“Well,” Drake continued, “Greg made such a good fake to me that they tackled me. And I’m trying to get up so I could run my pass route and Joe saw everything that happened and he ran over there and was wide open.”
“He also intercepted a pass after that when Jenks was trying to come back late in the game,” Drake said. “The Jenks game was very exciting. Joe Potter was an outstanding receiver and had a wonderful game that day.”
One game that year still holds special significance not so much for what happened on the field but for what happened off of it.
“Our first playoff game we played Muldrow in Sallisaw,” said Drake. “They had it in Sallisaw because of the bigger stadium down there. We left somewhere around noon and on the way down one of the boys was listening to a transistor radio. That was the day President Kennedy was assassinated. That’s how we found out and I’ll never forget it. And we had that on our minds all afternoon and night. It was a pretty somber night.”
Some of the memories from the ’63 season are of a lighter air.
“One time Dorvin Stogsdill, our center, intercepted a pass late in the game,” said Drake. “And there was only one guy who could have tackled him. Well, we all stood around and let that guy tackle him!”
“He was so mad,” Drake continued, laughing, “but we could have never lived with him if he’d have scored a touchdown!”
While both Drake and Roberts enjoy reminiscing about that ’63 team they both are avid fans of the current Ridgerunner squad. Drake has been a long time booster to Ridgerunner athletics.
“These boys the last two or three years here in Grove have just been exceptional,” said Drake. “They’ve had exceptional teams and a lot more talent than what we had back in the old days! A lot bigger and a lot faster!”
Just like today the community was solidly behind the Ridgerunner football team during Drake and Robert’s playing days.
“Back in the old days you could go by the stores and they’d have a sign on the door at four o’clock or so that said ‘gone to the football game’,” Drake said.
The 1963 Ridgerunner football team has gone down in the history books as one of the most successful squads that GHS has ever fielded. But bare facts and statistics alone, nor plaques and awards, can represent the full spectrum of the spirit of that team and its impact on the community.