EAST PENNSBORO TOWNSHIP — It was the same question each time a classmate intercepted right tackle Don Edmiston in the hallways of East Pennsboro High School during the 1959 football season.
“Most people would ask, ‘Are they going to score on you or not?’” the Enola man recalled. “I always used to respond, ‘I don’t know but they are not going to beat us.’”
Week after week, the Panthers overwhelmed the gridiron opposition in a history-making drive toward perfection in the annals of Midstate varsity sports.
Under the leadership of head coach John Gross, the young men pooled their talents to produce the region’s first undefeated, untied and unscored-upon high school team since 1919.
In 1959, Edmiston was a high school senior and one of four starters to be named to the First Team All Lower Susquehanna Conference. After high school, he served four years in the Air Force before retiring after 26 years in the construction field. He is now 72.
The school yearbook from 1959-1960 mentioned how the Panthers averaged 340 yards of total offense each game while the defense held opponents to an average of 60 yards of offense.
The Panthers scored 335 points in 10 games while keeping every challenger scoreless. Only six teams out of the more than 3,200 that played from 1887 to 1966 were also able to hold every opponent scoreless in an entire season, according to Bus Funk’s Grid fax football history of the region.
“It was not something we set out to do or thought about much,” said Dutch Reed, 71, who was a senior starting halfback. “We were focused on winning ball games. If it happens that we were not scored upon, that was just a bonus.”
The team only took notice of the emerging trend after it defeated Hummelstown 28-0 during the second game of the season. That was when a local newspaper mentioned that no points had been scored on East Pennsboro in the first two games.
“We had a great coach in John Gross,” said Lindsay Depew, 71, of Etters, who was a junior halfback on the 1959 Panther team. “He always stressed that if everybody does what they are supposed to do, we will have results. Everything we did was a team effort.”
Surviving members described how a team of characters came together on the field into a united force to be reckoned with. After Dallastown in game one and Hummelstown in game two, the Panthers defeated Boiling Springs and Big Spring with victories of 19-0 each.
“I almost blew the whole thing,” said Depew, recalling a close call from the week five game against Newport. Depew was on defense when he slipped and fell while covering a Newport player who luckily fumbled the ball around the East Pennsboro 30-yard line.
If that player had caught the ball, the path was open to run a touchdown. Instead the Panthers thrashed Newport 55-0 before taking down Scotland and Central York in weeks six and seven with lopsided victories of 39-0 and 41-0.
The Panther defense so dominated the field that most of the opposing teams never crossed the 50-yard line. Northern York came the closest to scoring the whole season, recalled Bill Foster, 72, of Enola. In 1959, Foster was a sophomore guard on offense and linebacker on defense.
Northern had the ball on the East Pennsboro 32-yard line. Foster had just left the field with a broken hand he had suffered during a kickoff. He glanced back just as a Northern player skirted the East Pennsboro defense and broke loose for open ground.
“The guy flew around the end and boy did he take off,” Foster recalled. “I thought for sure we would never catch him and then Dutch caught him from behind and brought him down. We had two real fast halfbacks that year. They weren’t real big. None of us were real big.”
Players were smaller when Foster was in high school. Most linemen weighed an average of 160 to 170 pounds and occasionally there was a tackle who tipped the scale at almost 200.
“Nobody was over 200 on the whole team and we didn’t lift weights like these kids do,” Foster said. “The kids today are lifting weights all the time and all summer long.”
High school football has progressed as a sport in the years since the 1959 team, Reed said. “We had more of a ground attack than they do now. There’s a lot more passing in the ball game.”
As the season churned forward, the hype continued to build for the undefeated Panthers. The East Pennsboro community rallied behind the players and the school was swept up by the excitement of making history.
The second to last game of the season was against the team from Susquenita High School, which resorted to unorthodox tactics to break the streak.
“They came out with a real crazy offense,” Foster said. “They were all spread out trying to score. They didn’t care if they won. They were just trying to score. They didn’t stand a chance.”
East Pennsboro crushed Susquenita by a score of 40-0. The last game of the season was against an arch-rival. A local newspaper made its prediction.
“The Harrisburg Patriot-News picked Camp Hill to beat us,” Foster said. “We had not given up a point all year and Camp Hill had lost two games, but they still picked us to lose the last game. We were not one of their favorites.”
This prediction upset the East Pennsboro football players. “I don’t think there was anyone very happy on our team,” Foster said.
“I’m sure it got under our skin a little bit,” Reed added.
The announcement by the newspaper generated so much hype that a capacity crowd of more than 5,000 spectators jammed the Panther home stadium. Foster guessed the number was closer to 10,000 including players from rival teams defeated earlier in the season.
“People from all over came just to see who this team was,” Depew said. “They wanted to know who was this team that nobody was scoring points on.”
Early in the game, Foster threw a cross body block on the Camp Hill defensive player clearing the way for Reed to charge in with the touchdown. “From then on, we had them,” Foster said.
The Panthers dominated, as always, and came away with a sweet 28-0 victory over their arch-rival. The win secured the team’s place in sports history.
This year on Oct. 17, the East Pennsboro Area School District paid tribute to the surviving members of the 1959 team during the pre-game show.
It was their first reunion without head coach John H. Gross Jr., who went on to compile a 62-25-1 record with Enola and East Pennsboro teams and was named Coach of the Year by the area’s sports writers in 1959, 1962 and 1963. Gross died on May 29, 2013 at age 87.
Following graduation, Foster worked for Nabisco and then N.F. String & Son Inc., which manufactures coin wrappers. Before his retirement, Depew worked for more than 44 years in the trucking industry first as a driver and then a manager.
Reed served four years in the U.S. Air Force before working for 35 years in customer service with the Pennsylvania American Water Co.