‘A moment I will always treasure’

If you were there you remember. If you played in it you remember. If you

lived in this town on that day you remember. It was a defining, classic moment that has stood the test of time as one of the most exciting events in the history of Butte sports.

he setting was 60 years ago this week, September 18, 1953. It was the annual city championship football game between Butte High and Butte Central. The title contest was

a one-sided affair with the Bulldogs always beating the Maroons.

Butte High had dominated the series since it started in 1915. During the span of

the first 38 years of the game, the Maroons had only managed to win twice in 1919 and

1925. The Bulldogs had been so dominate in the classic game that the Maroons had not

scored in seven straight title games dating back to 1946.

Butte High had been one of the most powerful programs in the state. They had registered ten straight winning seasons, playing in the state title game in three of the past four years heading into the 1953 campaign.

The Maroons had their moments of glory as well. They won state titles in 1942, 45, 48 and 52. The 1952 championship came under first year coach and Central alumni, Jim Sweeney.

Sweeney, who played on the 1945 title team, was thrilled to win the state championship as a head coach. Yet, he had a bigger ambition on his mind and that was to end the long winning streak over his beloved Maroons by the Bulldogs. The red-headed Irishmen had extra incentive because in his senior year, in 1946, Butte Central got edged by Butte High 24-20. It was the last time the Maroons had managed to score points against the Purple-and-White.

Even though the Maroons were a defending state champion, the odds were stacked against the Maroons heading into that 1953 city title game. Two years earlier, in 1951, Sweeney an assistant coach watched Butte Central get drilled 61-0 by Butte High. The next year, with Sweeney now as head coach, the Bulldogs dominated again winning 24-0. This came during a season when Butte Central won the Class A state title. The same thing happened in 1945 when the Maroons won the state crown only to get whipped 28-0 by Butte High. It also occurred in 1948 when Butte Central won the state title, but go beat 26-0 by the Bulldogs.

The Maroons had loads of players back from that title team in 1952, but little was expected in their match against Butte High. History had dictated no matter how good the Maroons were in a year, the Bulldogs always managed to win the city title game.

Butte Central tried to change their luck by wearing green uniforms for the game.

However, it appeared the lucky green would not provide the magic they needed against Butte High. The Maroons turned the ball over twice in the first period. Yet, Butte High could not capitalize on either miscue.

Late in the first stanza, Central quarterback and Butte Sports Hall of Fame member, Dick Roche, drove the Maroons down the field. He hit a critical 17-yard pass to Bill Burby. Butte Central faced a fourth down at the Bulldogs’ 11-yard stripe. Roche went around the end and got a first down at the 2-yard line as the first period ended.

The first play of the second period saw running back Harry Freebourn crash into the end zone for a Butte Central touchdown. It was the first tally by the Maroons against Butte High since in seven games. During that span, the Bulldogs had outscored the Maroons 188-0.

The lone score would stand the test of time the rest of the half. Butte Central went to the locker room leading 6-0.

It appeared Butte Central would extend their lead in the third period. The Maroons’ Jim Peoples recovered a Butte High fumble at the Bulldogs’ 26-yard line. The Purple-and-White dug in and stopped the Maroons cold.

The problem for Butte High was not their defense it was their offense. They could

Not move the ball. In the fourth period, legendary Butte High coach, Swede Dahlberg, decided to replace quarterback Bill Lepetic with Dave Place. The substitution paid off for the Bulldogs. Place got the ball with less than two minutes to play in the game. He drove Butte High down the Naranche Stadium dirt for a potential winning touchdown.

Place hit a number of screen passes and had a couple of nice runs. It took the pigskin down to the Maroons’ 11-yard line. There was only 35 seconds left on the clock.

Place tried two passes into the end zone for a score. Both passes fell incomplete. It was now fourth down and six from the Central 11-yard line. Swede Dahlberg decided to fake out the Maroons by running the ball rather than passing for the first down.

Butte High gave the ball to John Herzog. He crashed his way down to the six-yard line. It was one-yard shy of a first down. Butte Central took over and the Maroons’ cheering section exploded with joy. The Maroons run out the clock and for the first time in 28 years Butte Central had beaten Butte High in football by a score of 6-0.

The town erupted in joy for Maroons followers. Players from that 1953 team recently were honored during the M Club dinner. They told me the party after the win was more joyous than any St. Patrick’s Day. When you look into their eyes and you ask them about that moment, you can plainly see the joy it brings to them even today 60 years later. They have a smile on their face and they walk with an extra degree of pride in their step.

If you ask a longtime supporter like Don Peoples about that moment he not only smiles he tells you the exact day it happened September 18, 1953.

Jim Sweeney was asked many years later by some California press people what his most glorious moment was as a head coach. Sweeney had won many league titles at Montana State and Fresno State. He won bowl games with Fresno State. His answer to the question shocked everyone in the room.

Sweeney said, “The best moment I ever had as a head coach was the night my Maroons finally beat Butte High and ended their long streak. It was a moment I will never forget. It is a moment I will always treasure.”

September 18, 1953, 60 years ago this week. A classic moment in Butte sports especially for everyone who was there at historic Naranche Stadium. Butte High’s long winning streak against Butte Central was finally over.

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