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Mac, Alice waged an epic war 51 years ago

Knights, Coyotes to resume half-century-old rivalry Saturday at Alamodome

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Curtis Shiflet and Charles Taylor have coached the two winningest McCallum varsity football teams in school history. Left photo from 1967 Knight. Right photo by Dave Winter.

With eight seconds left on the clock, the weight of McCallum’s historic 1966 season rested on the Alice 9-yard line.

McCallum had won 11 games without trailing in any of them, but that changed when they faced Alice in the 4A bi-district playoffs. The Coyotes scored first and led the visiting Knights 10-0 at the half before McCallum quarterback Steve Chrisman’s touchdown pass to split end and Shield sports editor David Johnson, put the Knights on the scoreboard.

When David “Dazz” Mueller, subbing for injured wing back and team captain Bill Zapalac, scored on 10-yard touchdown run with just under seven minutes left in the game, the Knights took the lead, 12-10, and it looked like they would escape Alice with a comeback victory.

But the Coyotes weren’t done. After a 14-play, 73-yard drive culminated with a lead-changing touchdown, McCallum trailed by four points with only 99 seconds left in the game, Fred Sanner reported in the Austin American-Statesman on Nov. 26.

After McCallum received the kickoff, Chrisman and Johnson renewed their air attack, gaining 24 yards on three completions with a 21-yard pass interference penalty thrown in for good measure.

The Knights were on the doorstep of a storybook finish that would extend their season.

“On second down,” Sanner wrote, “Rick Denbow dropped a Steve Chrisman pass in the end zone with 13 seconds left. A Chrisman-to-Robert Morgan pass received the same fate,with 8 seconds left, David Johnson dropped a pass that killed the Knight last hope.”

Even now it is hard not to feel sympathy for Johnson, who had been heroic throughout the game and would later lead the Shield sports staff in reporting on the game in the next issue of the school paper.

If you are wondering why we are revisiting a game that was played 51 years ago, it’s not because Johnson worked for the same paper that we do.

It’s because the football teams from the two school’s will meet again this Saturday at noon in the Alamodome in a 5A Region IV semifinal game. Saturday’s game will be played on a neutral site, which was certainly not the case for the first meeting between the two schools.

Before the Knights lost the game, they lost the coin toss, which allowed Alice to host the game. The 1966 Knights, who will be recognized at Saturday’s game, remembered the bus ride to Alice very well.

“I remember we drove and drove,” said John Dodgen, another of the team’s captains and the leading rusher on the team. “We pulled into town, and there were adults sitting on benches on the main drag. While we were coming in, they were waving their hands, and they weren’t using all their fingers.”

The 1966 (11-1) and 2017 (12-0) McCallum football teams share a connection as the two most successful Knight football teams in school history. Top photo from 1967 Knight. Bottom photo by Madison Olsen.

The home team’s advantage continued in the stadium where the game was played. Senior running back Dennis Kerwin said that the home team’s fans encircled the entire field with lawn chairs surrounding the players with a capsule of animosity.

The hostile environment wasn’t the Knights only obstacle either. Injuries left the team without several key players.

“One of our players had a shoulder separation, one of them had a concussion,” Zapalac remembered. Zapalac wasn’t only the team captain. As a defensive end, a punter and the team’s blocking wing back, he was on the field virtually the whole game when he was healthy, but he was among the walking wounded in Alice.

“The only thing I was going to do was punt, but we did not punt in the whole ball game, and we lost the ball game,” Bill Zapalac said. “[An entire game without a punt]  is really unusual statistically in any level of football. So, I never got in, and that was really disappointing.”

While it was a disheartening loss, it didn’t change the fact that the team had the best season in school history. Until 2017, the 1966 Knights were the only team in McCallum’s history to go 10-0 and 11-0. Even after losing to Alice, they still held the school’s best season record:11-1.

Johnson and his sports staff at The Shield listed all the firsts the team accomplished in the Dec. 16 issue of the school paper. The ‘66 Knights were the first McCallum team to reach the bi-district round of the playoffs, the first team to complete an entire zone season without being scored upon and the first to go undefeated in district play since Austin High pulled off the feat in 1957.

“We didn’t make playoffs the season before and getting to playoffs was a big deal and at the time, we were ranked No. 2 in the state,” Zapalac said. “I think we started at No. 8, and each week we would inch up as other teams got beaten, and once we got in the playoffs, back in those days there would only be about one team from each district that would make playoffs. To get to the state championship you had to win three games, and the fourth game was the state championship. We made it to the second game.”

While the season unfolded, the team did not focus on staying unbeaten.

“We never thought about going undefeated,” Mueller said. “That was the mentality that [Head] Coach [Curtis] Shiflet preached. We really wanted to win district, and we were really gunning for a revenge win against Travis.”

The team achieved both of those goals, and a whole lot more. As a result of their historic season, the 1966 team will be honored at this weekend’s game for being the last team to have an undefeated regular season.

“Being undefeated, I know that’s what you’re celebrating now; it was good looking back, I don’t think about it like that,” Zapalac said. “I always thought about moving forward and to advance. Your memory is more of the last occurrence than the entire year.”

For the 1966 team, the Alice game is the last one they would play all together; however, some Knights went on to play in college.

“For me, there was something else to look forward to,” Zapalac said. “In late December I knew I was going to play college football, but to me it wasn’t like it was over, but more that it was a stage and it was time for the next sport [basketball].”

Although Zapalac didn’t get to play in the Alice game due to injury, his career continued at the University of Texas for two national championship teams and all the way through to the NFL where he played for the New York Jets. At UT, he played with two other 1966 Knights, his brother Jeff and defensive back Rick Nabors.

“There will be one time, and there are some miracles that go on in high school playoffs,” Zapalac said. “Many times, the underdog wins. But it’s not because you happen to stumble into something, the people who are best prepared and the individuals that want to win the most, will.”

With reporting by Gregory James, Julie Robertson and Dave Winter.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story reported that the McCallum-Alice game is the area final. McCallum defeated Rosenberg Terry, 52-24, for the area championship last Friday in Navasota. The game between McCallum and Alice at the Alamodome on Saturday is a Region IV semifinal.

The headlines from the Shield and the Statesman tell the tale of the 1966 bi-district playoff game between McCallum and Alice high schools.

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Mac, Alice waged an epic war 51 years ago