Star players from Carlisle High School once made a rushing play from an accident scene to a football stadium to finish off an undefeated season.
Right end Donald Weigle was driving a car near Centerville, on the way to a game in Chambersburg, when a tire blew out on a downhill stretch.
He applied the brakes but lost control. The car veered off the road into a ditch where it overturned and spilled out the passengers, including quarterback Ray Coover, center Harry Basom and fullback Paul Teitrick.
It was Saturday, Nov. 24, 1917, during the third official season for what later became the Thundering Herd football team. In the aftermath of this accident, it looked as though three players of what The Sentinel called the “plucky eleven” were doomed for the sidelines.
“Chauffeur Weigle sustained a badly injured finger on the right hand and the nail of his little finger was cut severely,” the newspaper reported. “Coover’s misfortune was an injured knee and a sprained ankle, and Harry Bosam’s lip took on immense proportions.”
As for Teitrick, he escaped injury along with Hulda Kirk – one of three teenage girls riding in the car with the team members. Mae Andrews suffered a cut above her eye while Ruth Wilson broke her nose at the exact same place she did the year before. The situation seemed dire.
The end game
“The Weigle car was damaged, the windshield being broken and the top being made anything but beautiful,” The Sentinel reported on Nov. 26. Fortunately for Carlisle football, local residents picked up the four players and drove them to Chambersburg while the girls stayed behind at a local farmhouse.
The accident delayed the start of the hardest fought game of the 1917 season. The Chambersburg players outweighed the Carlisle boys by 8 to 10 pounds each, “but even this advantage could not stop the Carlisle backs from making gains through the line,” The Sentinel reported.
Chambersburg scored in the first quarter off a forward pass, but this was answered in the second quarter by an interception made by defensive lineman Bruce Dougherty who ran for 50 yards to tie the game at the half.
In the third quarter, a Chambersburg player was ejected for roughness, and the Carlisle team carried the ball for 60 yards “using line-plunging.” “When they came to the one-yard line, Coover, although being slightly injured in an automobile wreck, carried the ball through the Chambersburg right side for a touchdown,” The Sentinel reported.
The kick for the extra point was good, and Carlisle was leading 13-6 going into what became a punishing fourth quarter with two bad calls from officials. “Before Chambersburg scored their second touchdown, Coover recovered a fumble which rolled out of bounds, but the referee claimed it was Chambersburg’s ball,” the newspaper story reads.
The second “unfair decision” took place when Chambersburg was on Carlisle’s one-yard line. Chambersburg tried but failed to break through the Carlisle defense by making a rushing play into the end zone. But after the referee blew the whistle, a Chambersburg player fell across the line and the official called it a touchdown.
Unleash the stampede
But Carlisle prevailed when the Chambersburg kicker missed the extra point for a final score of 13-12. Carlisle had won all eight of its games that season, including three where the Herd stampeded the opposition.
On Oct. 20 that year, Carlisle defeated the Carson Long Academy in Perry County by a score of 13-0, despite a first half where neither team made any progress.
A week later, Carlisle overwhelmed the second team of Harrisburg’s central high school with a score of 82-0. The offense operated with impunity, and The Sentinel described the defensive line as a “stone wall” that “could not be pierced for even a first down.”
The Harrisburg team only started to show gains after the Carlisle coach “started putting in his very light line material,” according to the newspaper. Even then, Harrisburg only got one first down the entire game.
“This was the highest score the Carlisle High School team ever ran up in its history, scoring more points in one game than last year’s (1916) whole season,” The Sentinel reported on Monday, Oct. 29, 1917.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 17, Carlisle defeated Palmyra 45-0. Two weeks earlier, a Palmyra team held Carlisle to a 12-7 win in what The Sentinel described as an exciting game from beginning to end.
“Palmyra endangered the Carlisle goal several times, but especially in the end of the third quarter when they came to the five-yard line for a first down but were utterly unable to pierce the Carlisle line for even a foot,” The Sentinel reported.
The Carlisle defense only allowed 37 points all season while the offense in fall 1917 scored 198 points. The only other close game was the 13-12 season-opener opposite Marysville High School on Friday, Oct. 13, 1917.
The first herd
Just over a half-century later, in 1969, Esther Caufman donated to the Cumberland County Historical Society a rare photograph of the 1915 Carlisle High School football team. That donation came to the attention of two sportswriters for The Sentinel – Otto Lins and D. Wilson Thompson who wrote an article titled “The First Thundering Herd.”
The 1915 team was so young that it lost very few players to graduation in both spring 1916 and spring 1917. That meant the players who remained had two complete years of varsity grid-iron experience going into the winning fall 1917 season.
There is reason to believe the 1915 football team was the first official team to represent Carlisle High School through a season of scheduled games, the article reads. “1915 was a logical year for a beginning because it was the first football season after the school had moved into the new Lamberton building.
“The school was growing rapidly ... and students thought that their new tech high should have a football team,” the article reads. “But it was still small for interscholastic sport.”
Back then, Carlisle High School only enrolled about 100 boys in grades 10-12, and many of them either worked or commuted after school. Being a small team, it was open to anyone who wanted to try out, but those picked were expected to play in every game.
In 1915, the school had no gymnasium, no shower room and no athletic fields. Home games were played at either Biddle Field at Dickinson College or Indian field at Carlisle Barracks. Practice was held on the back lot of the Franklin School building, which had no line or goal posts, but plenty of limestone outcroppings and ledges.
The average player received one pair of used football pants, but they had to find their own jerseys. Pads were optional, and foot gear was often a pair of street shoes with leather cleats nailed to the soles.
“Coaching was minimal,” the 1969 story reads. “The first coach was a law student, whose name cannot now be recalled, who had played college football. He outlined a dozen basic plays, but his prospects were not rosy ... The boys were graduates of the backyard game and thought they knew how to run and tackle ... But they were ignorant of the art of blocking. And none had ever played on a team using rehearsed plays with a set of signals.”
Back then, Carlisle fans ignored the bleachers, preferring instead to stand along the sidelines. “Following the play up the field and down the field, the spectators had nearly as much exercise as the players,” the article reads.
The 1915 team was lightweight with its heaviest player being Ray Lackey, a lineman, at 175 pounds. The 1915 line-up included mostly boys from well-known families, and Edmund Wheelock – an Oneida Native American and son of Dennison Wheelock who was the bandmaster of the Carlisle Indian School for years.