On Nov. 2, 1979, controversy began to brew in the rather dramatic world of high school football. Penn Hills High School had used an academically ineligible player through a majority of the season and had been forced to forfeit.
Outraged parents took to the courts in protest of the decision threatening to sue. Common Pleas Judge Nicholas Papadakous sided with the Penn Hills parents and ruled the Indians would be permitted to participate in the WPIAL playoffs and face Southmoreland, Keystone Conference champions.
Ironically, Penn Hills went on to win the WPIAL championship but was forced to vacate its title when a higher court overruled Judge Papadakous – a year and a half later.
Southmoreland faced the controversial team on that evening of Nov. 2,1979. The Scotties had a successful 7-1-1 season and were optimistic about their upcoming run in the playoffs.
The Scotties left night with a crushing loss of 31-0 at the hands of a much superior Penn Hills team which featured the legendary Bill Fralic, who went on to play at Pitt and in the NFL, and Tom Flynn, who played quarterback and defensive back before joining Fralic at Pitt. Flynn won a Super Bowl championship with the New York Giants.
The loss to Penn Hills ended Southmoreland’s brief tenure in the postseason. However, it instilled a new pride in being a student at Southmoreland High School.
“It was a 7-1-1 season and was the district’s first ever conference championship,” said an article by Dave Herst in The Pittsburgh Press.
“It was a great season,” said Joach John Bacha in a 1979 interview. Bacha was awarded Class AAA coach of the year later that November, adding to the accomplishments of the rural high school.
Unbeknownst to the team and the town, this would be the start of a painful playoff drought at Southmoreland that would last 40 years.
Southmoreland began to fall by the wayside in the world of high school football with each season becoming increasingly more disappointing.
Eventually, the increasing lack of morale culminated in a losing streak that began after Southmoreland’s triumph over Waynesburg on Sept. 23, 2016. Eventually the Scotties would go on to an 0-9 season.
Southmoreland’s football program needed a change in leadership. History teacher Dave Keefer was formally hired in December 2017 for the upcoming football season. The ink from his contract barely dried when coach Keefer started weight training the following month.
Mr. Keefer, who has been a member of the Southmoreland faculty for 27 years, was also a Marine who served in the Persian Gulf War.
Mr. Keefer has also served as the assistant football coach at Bentworth High School, Greensburg Central Catholic and Mount Pleasant High School over the last 20 years. Additionally, he serves as the Southmoreland head track coach.
Mr. Keefer was able to bring the football team back from their losing streak with their victory over Mount Pleasant on Aug. 24, 2018.
Mr. Keefer, though pleased with this victory and winning four total games that season, had his eyes set on making the playoffs to end the drought.
The accomplishments of the 2018 season gave the team a new sense of energy for the 2019 season.
“I’m pretty intense,” said coach Keefer. “I expect a lot of effort and time from the players,. They don’t just go through the motions, and the program is it’s immersive. I think I get the kids to want to play. I respect them and they respect me, and I think they feed off of my enthusiasm.”
Mr. Keefer’s determination and dedication led to a clean sweep of the first five games of the season, winning them all and propelling the team into the playoffs.
The Scotties lost their five regular season games – all to playoff-bound teams – and the 40-year playoff drought, the longest in the WPIAL, was finally over.
A new sense of pride had been restored into Southmoreland.
The intense energy from the team transferred into a total culture change in the district, beginning with local restaurant Carson’s Tavern opening a late night buffet after every home game.
During the weekend of Scottdale’s annual Fall Festival, in which the Scotties took home a victory again that Friday, all of the storefronts downtown were covered in Scottie memorabilia, art, photography and historic items. Additionally, there was even a contest to see which local businesses could create the best display of their pride in Southmoreland.
Promotion for all of the fall sports grew immensely as well due to this newfound pride.
Almost exactly 40 years after their last playoff season on Nov. 1, Southmoreland took on second-seeded Avonworth High School.
“It was an exciting game to watch,” said Bri Demagall, drum major of the Southmoreland Marching Band.
Unfortunately, Southmoreland finished the 2019 season with a 41-0 playoff loss. However, coach Keefer remains encouraged.
“It felt great to even make it to the playoffs; dozens of teams didn’t make it,” said Coach Keefer. “I set high expectations every year, and I would like to go to the playoffs every year I coach.”
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