Pats were near-perfect in first seasonAugust 16, 2021
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories this week on the 50th season of Heritage Hills Football.
Fifty seasons may seem like a long time, but Van Tuley remembers his high school football days all too well.
Heritage Hills was formed when Dale and Chrisney consolidated into one new school beginning in 1972. Chrisney did not have a football team, but Tuley was on a Dale Golden Aces team that was a work in progress. The Aces went 4-6 during his freshman season of 1969, 5-5 during his sophomore year of 1970 and 8-2 during his junior campaign of 1971 - the final Golden Aces team ever.
"I don't know that we actually knew that was the final year for Dale," Tuley said. "I don't believe we really got hit with the consolidation until mid-year of junior year that was going to take place."
Tuley felt there were mixed emotions in the communities about consolidation. In fact, students from Chrisney and Dale went to school at their old respective high school respective while the new Heritage Hills school was being opened up.
The vast majority of the first Heritage Hills team featured players from the 1971 Dale team, and the first Patriots coach was Roger Snow, the final coach at Dale. The first Pats team did, however, have some players who were from Chrisney, such as Glenn Shourds, Dean Knepper, Gary Canen and Mike Krutz.
"About our fourth game of the season, Tim Winchell, who was our nose tackle on defense, broke his ankle and was out for the season," Tuley said. "Mike got thrown in. He basically got baptism by fire. 'You got to step up now and play.' We always encouraged him, we always tried to give him ideas on what he needed to do on plays and stuff, and it was that kind of atmosphere."
"Canen was a pretty good athlete, and he helped us in our defensive backfield," said Rike Winchell, a running back and defensive back. "He brought some speed and athleticism to the backfield as well."
Winchell was part of a group of 13 seniors, and he thought that senior class was crucial to the progression of the final Dale teams and the first Heritage Hills team.
He told of going to the house of offensive lineman John Brown to lift weights and work out during the summer.
"He had weights set up in the garage," Winchell said. "And we would go out there and lift weights probably for a couple times a week. All of us had summer jobs, but that was pretty much our weightlifting program at that time."
The Pats got off to a rocking start by winning each of their first four games in program history. They won their first game, 28-6, against Perry Central, but survived a close 7-6 game with North Posey. Yet, Heritage Hills won by comfortable margins against Haubstadt and Petersburg by scores of 27-6 and 34-0, respectively.
"For us, it was just teamwork and it came pretty easy if we did what we were supposed to do," Brown said.
Heritage Hills would have a big test, however, in its Pocket Athletic Conference showdown against Fort Branch, another undefeated squad. The Pats traveled to play the Twigs in their fifth game of the season.
"We were pretty high going into that game," Tuley said.
The Pats trailed, 7-0, following a 67-yard touchdown run by Greg Wilson of the Twigs. However, Heritage Hills recovered a fumble that led to a Rike rushing score. The Pats held a 12-7 lead before Bob Maas ran 56-yards to set up a Fort Branch touchdown. Rick Wilson was in on the keeper, and Greg was in for two.
Heritage Hills pushed to Fort Branch's five-yard line, and members of the 1972 Pats will insist Rike ran in another touchdown, but instead, he fumbled. Fort Branch handed Heritage Hills its first loss in program history, 15-12.
Brown, Tuley and Rike all thought he had scored.
"I do remember getting hit right on the arm and it went forward and went through the back of the end zone," he said. "That's all I remember. I remember that I fell down. I was a good two yards past the goal line marker, but they called it a fumble."
"The conditions that night were just absolutely horrible," Tuley said. "You're talking temperatures in the forties, (of) pouring down rain. And I think it hurt us in that game because we relied on a lot of speed on the outside with Rike Winchell, Steve Kendall carrying the ball. And Fort Branch was more of a 'Let's bang it up the middle, bang it between the tackles kind of team.' And that kind of wet, muddy feel, they were able to take advantage against us that night."
Tuley knew some players were down after the loss to Fort Branch, but the fire came back during that week's practice. The Pats held a 14-0 lead on the Braves, but they came back for a 14-14, and it would go to overtime.
However, Rike had his third rushing touchdown of the night when he scored in OT, and Ken Guth's pass to Chigger Hile was good for two, giving the Pats the 22-14 win. It was their first of a five-game win streak to end the season. Rike was named to the All-Pocket Athletic Conference Team both on offense and defense. Joining him on the All-PAC team were Hile on offense and defensive tackle Dan Hufnagel on defense.
And thus, the Pats concluded their first of many winning seasons, and through the first 49 seasons in program history, only six have ended with losing records.
"Yes, there have been teams that went above that bar that have been undefeated for the season, but to set that bar that high the first, it's something you take pride in," Tuley said.
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