Iowa high school football gets rolling in earnest this week and it’s the time of year every team has big goals, whether it be ending a losing streak, winning a district or conference title, or capturing a state championship.
Inevitably some will succeed and some will fail. Whatever happens, the 2012 season – like all the previous ones – will be remembered by those involved for years to come.
As the years pass, there will be milestones, as is the case this fall for athletes of two Metro schools. This year marks the 30th and 40th anniversaries of state championship teams at LaSalle and Jefferson, respectively.
LaSalle, which along with Regis closed in 1998 when Xavier High School was formed, was a Class 2A powerhouse in the early and mid 1980s under the direction of Coach Tom Kopatich. The Lancers captured back-to-back state titles in ’82 and ’83, compiling a 22-2 record during that time. LaSalle also was state runnerup in 1985.
Kopatich, now an administrator at Ottumwa, was a taskmaster. He demanded sound fundamentals and shielded praise directed at him and his team. The Lancers’ playbook wasn’t particularly large, but what plays they used were run with precision. The concept was simple: execute and avoid mistakes.
Many of Kopatich’s former players are now coaches themselves, including Xavier head coach Duane Schulte. You can see some of the same approaches Kopatich used with Schulte-coached teams. And Kopatich went on to take 12 other teams to the state playoffs at Ottumwa, Davenport Assumption and Dubuque Wahlert.
Forty years ago, the Iowa High School Athletic Association introduced playoffs. In Class 4A, only four teams would make the playoffs, 28 fewer than will make it this year.
Jefferson roared through the regular season with a 9-0 record, sparked by a defense that allowed only 36 points. The J-Hawks whitewashed Cedar Falls in the state semifinals, 27-0.
The state championship game was scheduled to be played at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, but a blizzard the week before forced the IHSAA to move the 4A game to the artificial turf of Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
The Jefferson defense again was stout as the J-Hawks prevailed over West Des Moines Dowling, 6-0. Running back Jim Dulin, later a star at William Penn, plunged into the end zone from short yardage for the game’s only touchdown and the first in 4A playoff history.
The J-Hawks continually turned away Dowling drives and eventually cemented themselves as one of the best defenses in Metro history.
Jack Fisk, who died in 2010, was the Jefferson head coach and he was surrounded by a staff of experienced assistants. Fisk, like Kopatich, was a man of few words during the season. He relied heavily on the running game and the defense.
Jefferson’s state championship in 1972 still remains the only one for a Cedar Rapids public school in football. Metro teams have won nine other tate titles, most recently by Xavier in 2006.
Teams aren’t necessarily defined by championships. But when one comes along, the memories years later are always vivid.
Today’s Metro teams, especially in Class 4A, have much more opportunity to get into the postseason than those teams of 30 and 40 years ago. But it doesn’t make it any easier to win a state title.
Decades later, players and coaches from LaSalle and Jefferson undoubtedly would tell you so.
(Mark Dukes is former sports editor of the Cedar Rapid Gazette. He is co-host of The Gym Class radio show weekdays from 3-4 p.m. on KGYM-AM 1600 and FM-106.3.)
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