Jaden Datz, the young quarterback in the pocket, calls for the ball. Southmoreland is driving for the winning touchdown. With a win, the team will shed the stigma as having the longest playoff drought in the WPIAL.
It’s been 36 years since the Scotties won the Keystone Conference title and a trip to the post season.
“Everything was going through my mind at once,” Datz said, recalling the events of last year.
The Scotties were less than 35 yards from making history. The 2014 team was one touchdown away from beating Waynesburg, and ultimately earning a playoff spot for the first time. Datz dropped back, scanned, scrambled, and let the ball fly. Seeing the ball caught in the end zone, the crowd went wild, but they’re excitement was cut short by a flag.
Personal foul on the offensive line.
One play later, the Scotties again reached the endzone, securing the win.
Or at least they thought. A yellow penalty marker rested in the endzone.
Personal foul, again…
The loss of two touchdown opportunities had run the Scotties to their third down touchdown attempt. Datz let the ball fly and again it was caught in the endzone, but this time, the player on the receiving end of the pass was not clad in black and red.
Waynesburg intercepted the pass in the endzone.
This ultimately caused Southmoreland to lose; Waynesburg scored one last time on a drive aided by numerous penalties against the Scotties. Southmoreland is now just three years shy of 40 years without a postseason appearance. This “streak” contributes to a theory that sounds too “supernatural” to be true.
The theory: Southmoreland’s Stadium is cursed.
The curse extending almost 40 years into the past, before turf at the bottom of the hill, was named Russ Grimm Field in honor of the Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Paul Brittain, Southmoreland’s announcer for football and soccer, has been in the press box for several decades. He has seen many instances of the “curse.”
“After the Waynesburg game, the officials should have been ashamed to cash their paychecks,” Mr. Brittain said. “It looked like we would win by 8. We felt like the playoffs were finally possible, then poof, it was gone.”
According to Mr. Brittain, there have been many games he has witnessed from the press box that support the theory of a curse, including a game from 1992 against the Yough Cougars that decided which team would advance to the playoffs.
“We were up 21-6 at the half,” Mr. Brittain said. “It was a solid game for us.”
But even then, this curse was working against Southmoreland, trying to keep them from the playoffs by what seemed the oddest of circumstances. Yough scored twice. One field goal would tie the game. Yough instead decided to end the game then and there. They lined up for the two-point conversion. Before the conversion was attempted, there was a flag on the Cougars that sent them back to the 18 yard line. The game then seemed as if SHS would score a playoff appearance, but Yough wasn’t going down without a fight. The teams lined up and prepared for the play that would decide the game. Something like a miracle must have happened…for Yough, as they completed the conversion from the 18 yard line.
“Up in the press box, I could hear people asking if we were cursed,” said Mr. Brittain. “Since then, there have been times when I thought the same thing.”
This “curse” may affect the football teams, but the coincidences extend beyond the turf on Friday nights; affecting soccer as well. One example of this was when Southmoreland was winning a home playoff game 2-1 and was awarded a penalty kick.
The goalie tackled the Southmoreland player in the penalty box, awarding the team a penalty kick. The goalie also was ejected for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, according to soccer rules.
It turned out to be a good play.
“We thought it would likely become 3-1, given how penalty kicks seem to be about 85 percent automatic,” said Mr. Brittain.
But that wasn’t the case. The Scottie player kicked the ball directly at the backup goalkeeper – who only just entered the game – who blocked the shot, making the ball ricochet out to the other team’s players, one of whom was alone at midfield. The player rushed downfield alone and scored one-on-one against the Scottie goalie. The hopeful 3-1 lead was instead a 2-2 tie. The Scotties lost the game 3-2, ending their season.
Charlie Swink, Southmoreland’s Athletic Director, has seen many sporting events. He has noticed that a game can be decided by attitudes of players and fans alike, not only the effort.
“Sure, we can blame curses,” Mr Swink said. “We can blame officials. All this is true, but mistakes can change a game.”
The loss of Tommy Pisula with a knee injury this past football season, as seen by Mr. Swink, contributed to the team missing the playoffs again this season. Teams would focus their defense around Pisula, so whenever he was out for the season, teams could target the Scotties as a whole. He further explained that this wasn’t why the Scotties lost close games this past season, but that it merely contributed to the opposition’s “defensive strengths.”
Mr. Swink, instead, blamed the involvement of the student body as the catalyst for this “curse.” He believes that whether you play on the team, or cheer the team on from the student section, everyone has a hand in breaking the curse.
“You do what’s necessary,” Mr. Swink said. “If you are on the punt return team, you return punts to the best of your ability. If you are in the student section, you cheer the team on to the best of your ability regardless of the score. You do what’s necessary, whatever you can do, to help break this curse.”
School spirit has been seen as an underlying problem on game nights, causing lack of team morale. These issues were mentioned both by Mr. Brittain and Mr. Swink alike. Attendance of students and negativity in the stands seem to be issues that can attribute, make or break, to ending the stadium’s curse. Both Mr. Swink and Mr. Brittain weighed in on this issue.
“Too many negative things have been heard out of the stands on the home side especially,” Mr. Brittain said. “The players hear this.”
So, as a student body, a school, and an overall community, how can the curse be broken? As participation and size play large factors in success, it is also possible that athletes could change the whole connotation of the word “curse.” Instead of using it as a name of negativity and explanation for shortcomings, Southmoreland should use it to start a rallying point, causing the students to rally around the idea of overcoming it: The Curse of Southmoreland Stadium.
“When you graduate high school, regardless of what your parents will tell you, you will look back on these days and realize that you only had so much time to make a name for yourself,” Mr. Swink said. “Wouldn’t it be great to come together and break this curse?”
Mr. Brittain continues to hold out hope.
“I hope I see it happen while I announce here at Southmoreland,” Mr. Brittain said. “I hope to see the Scotties in another playoff appearance.”
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