Unbeaten, untied, unscored on
Exactly 50 years ago, the Mt. Pleasant football team was in the middle of the greatest season in school history, though no one knew it yet.
The Panthers were preparing to open Southeast Six Conference play on Friday, Sept. 27, against Washington.
They had defeated North Scott and the formidable Cedar Rapid Jefferson tam, and had yet to allow an opposing point.
They would finish the nine-game season undefeated, untied and unscored upon, becoming the mythical state champions after earning the No. 1 seed in the UPI poll.
That team, that group of 1963 football players, will be honored in the homecoming celebration this weekend.
Mike Riepe, a player on that team, will speak tonight at Boom Night. The team members will serve as the grand marshals at the homecoming parade tomorrow afternoon, and each player will be honored on Bob Evans Field at Mapleleaf Athletic Complex before tomorrow night’s game against Centerville.
Along with former players, the game will be special for one other particular person on the field — Chuck Evans, the Centerville head coach and the son of Mt. Pleasant's legendary former football coach, the late Bob Evans.
"It will probably be the most emotional game I'll ever coach," Evans said. "Being the coach's son, those guys (on the 1963 team) were my heroes; I grew up watching them play. My dad ... always talked about how they were very successful in life. He was proud of how smart they were in the classroom, how they played the game of football and how they represented Mt. Pleasant."
At the time, the players didn't realize what an impact their season would have on so many people, especially themselves.
"We were all caught up in Mt. Pleasant football being proficient at that time, and we wanted to take our turn," Warren Woepking said. "At the time, it was just a continuation of Mt. Pleasant football. We just wanted to win, and if they didn't score, then that was a bonus."
But now, it is the unscored upon part that has gone down in history.
Only 15 teams in Iowa have done it, dating back to 1901. Only seven have done it in a nine-game season, and no one has ever done it in a longer season.
The last team to go unscord upon was Carson-Macedonia in 1973, the only team to accomplish the feat after the playoff system started — though they did play a shortened season, competing in a total of just eight games.
What made it possible for Mt. Pleasant to accomplish the perfect season?
"We had a lot of big, fast, strong kids there at that time," Woepking said.
The line — which included Woepking, along with Eric Boller, Ronald Marshall, and captains Tom Bell and Larry Woodsmall — was nearly impenetrable.
"I had some big guys ahead of me, and the linemen really made me look good," Riepe said. "They made my life easier as a linebacker."
To go with the line, the running backs were fast and powerful group — players like Bill Calloway, Kent Thomson and Stan Kerr. And quarterback Tim Proctor connected on key passes to bring the offense together.
But overall, the Panthers weren’t just athletic — they were smart.
“Years later, Evans told me he changed the defense up a bit that year, because he had a linebacker (Riepe) who was smart enough to know the reads and call the plays, but too slow to outrun his zone,” Riepe said. “He knew me pretty well — he always had a good idea of what his players could do — but he also gave me the tools I needed.”
But even with another group of smart, athletic and dedicated players, the 1963 Panthers agree that the unscored upon season would be much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve now.
"It's much more difficult at games now — it's easier to score, there are better kickers and field goals are more common," Woepking said.
"It was a different game 50 years ago," Thomson agreed. "Now, with the playoffs, realistically, it could never happen again — not with the wide-open offense and a lot more throwing."
Back then, of course, it was no easy feat either— and Mt. Pleasant had an extra challenge for its season.
"We happened to have Cedar Rapids Jefferson on the schedule, and they were the best team in Iowa," Calloway said. "They won the Missouri Valley Conference that year, defeated Davenport Central and Moline."
Not only that, but it was the biggest school in Iowa at the time — well over 2,000 students.
"Evans told us on the way to Cedar Rapids Jefferson, 'They're expecting us to get off the bus in our farm shoes and go play,’” Riepe said.
Instead, they got off the bus, walked into Kingston Stadium, and — in front of about 7,000 fans — came up with a 7-0 win.
They went on, of course, to play seven more games, all ending in a shutout.
The lasting impact of that season on the players was profound.
"It made me want to become a coach," Calloway said.
And become a coach he did, eventually taking over the helm of the Jefferson team from 1982-1990.
He still coaches girls' track at the school.
"We would use the same locker room that we did when we played there (at Kingston Stadium)," Calloway said. "I don't always think about it, but sometimes when I walk past, I have to stop and think — yep, that really happened."
Others, like Warren Woepking, also became coaches.
For Riepe, the football season led to not only opened doors for football, but for education in general.
"It led to a football scholarship for me at Kansas University, which was a life-altering opportunity," Riepe.
Riepe knows now how important that season was, and how important every player was to the team — especially the three captains.
"We were a smart team, and very motivated," he said. "The captains were key; they motivated the rest of the team to play hard."
All three captains — Bell, Woodsmall and Kerr — have passed away, along with some other teammates and their head coach.
"There will always be a big hole (now that Evans has passed away)," Woepking said. "I sure wish Coach could have made it (to the 50th anniversary celebration), but he left us a lot of memories, and we'll have to go back and review some of those."
One of the most prominent memories from many team members was the overall support from their fellow students, fans, and the whole town in general.
“At the time, it was like living a dream. It was magic — that's about the only thing you could describe it as," Thomson said. "The whole town was caught up in it. It made it difficult to practice, because people were always stopping by.”
But, of course, the dedicated fan base had its perks.
"We always had more people in the stands (than the other team), even when we were the visitors," Thomson said.
And there will certainly be many more stories exchanged when they take advantage of the chance to see each other once again this weekend.
"This is one of our last chances to get together," Riepe said.
For more from the 1963 season, read a little about each game here.