In the past 100 years, only one full season of Monmouth College football has ended without a single blemish. The Fighting Scots were a perfect 9-0 in 1972, winning four blowouts before a series of five straight contested victories, capped by a triumph over arch-rival St. Olaf. That victory over the Oles gave Monmouth its first-ever outright Midwest Conference football championship. There would not be another one for 33 years. By then, undefeated regular seasons were rewarded with a trip to the NCAA playoffs, so that 2005 campaign – and three others since – ended with postseason defeats. That makes 1972 the last undefeated season for Fighting Scots football.
In this series, players from that historic team, now in their early 70s, look back on that memorable fall, and so does their head coach, the legendary Bill Reichow.
MONMOUTH — In 1971, Monmouth topped Cornell 17-15 in Iowa, scoring the winning touchdown on a fourth-down pass from Dale Brooks to Steve Rueckert with three seconds to play. The score came after the drive was extended by another fourth-down connection between the pair, and it completed Monmouth’s rally from a 15-3 deficit.
“There was a flag on almost every play,” recalled Rod Davies. “Rueckert caught that last pass, and I remember just waiting for that flag to come in. But it didn’t. I don’t know why they finally let that play stand.”
A Review Atlas game account reported that the Fighting Scots were penalized eight times for 74 yards, eating into their decisive 408-215 yardage edge.
“As the refs left the game, the Monmouth crowd was giving it to ’em really bad,” said Davies. “Never before had I ever seen the refs cussing out the fans after the game like I did that day, and I’ve never seen it again.”
So much like Monmouth had a score to settle in 1972 with St. Olaf, Cornell was seeking a measure of revenge against the Scots. The Rams were also seeking a share of the Midwest Conference title, despite a 13-7 loss to Coe the week before, their first league setback of the season.
For more than half the game, it looked as if the Rams would be successful.
A 48-yard pass from Rob Ash to Jim Becia – that season’s first-team All-MWC quarterback and end – put Cornell on the board in the first quarter.
“For some reason, Cornell matched up really well with us,” said Charlie Goehl. “I remember they had a really good wide receiver. He was giving us troubles, and they asked me to move over and cover him.”
Craig Kouba booted the extra point after Becia’s TD, then tackled on field goals of 37 and 23 yards on either side of halftime, putting Cornell up 13-0, the Rams’ second double-digit lead over the Scots in as many years. Monmouth fumbles led to all three scoring drives.
But the second field goal had been a victory of sorts for the Scots. Indeed, as The Register-Mail’s account read: “It was here where the complexion of the game began to change.”
Following the Scots’ third fumble, the Rams had a first-and-goal from the one-yard line, but the defense stuffed two runs and, after a Cornell penalty, forced an incomplete pass. Cornell settled for Kouba’s three-point kick.
Tom Kratochvil recalled the goal-line stand.
“Rich Gladinus made a good defensive play there,” he said. “He broke up a pass, but there was a penalty that pushed them back. They tried to pass again, and he broke that one up, too. They had to kick a field goal. Then Rueckert broke off something like a 60-yard return, and from then on, we just clicked.”
Let’s pause a second here for dramatic effect. Monmouth’s 1972 team – a team that ultimately achieved perfection – had to overcome a 13-point second-half deficit to get there.
“That’s when (Tim) Burk brought us back with his passing,” said Davies of that year’s second-team All-MWC quarterback. “He could get us out of any trouble.”
“You’d look at him and think ‘No way is this guy a quarterback,’” said Mike Castillo. “Just his physical demeanor of him.”
But, oh, that arm.
“Boy, I could pitch it,” Davies said. “He would roll out and throw the thing on the fly.”
“We knew we could pass and score, and we knew we could run and score,” said Kratochvil of the confidence that Monmouth had developed in its offense by that point in the season.
For the Scots’ comeback, they would rely on both facets.
Rueckert’s 66-yard kickoff return put the Scots in great field position. Burk, who had 14 TD passes through the Scots’ first four games, had gone two full games and half of the Cornell contest without another, but he finally connected with Goehl on a 14-yard scoring strike – which had been tipped by a Cornell defend – to make it 13-7.
In the final quarter, Burk threw a 15-yard TD pass to wide open John Unterfranz. Monmouth had pulled even and could take the lead on Tom Roy’s PAT. But Roy’s kick was blocked, and the game remained tied.
After stopping Cornell, Monmouth took over on its own 20-yard line and proceeded to march 80 yards in seven minutes for the winning touchdown. Every play was on the ground, including the final one, a 2-yard TD run by Burk with four minutes to play. That proved to be the final points in Monmouth’s 19-13 victory.
In addition to its pivotal goal-line stop, the Scots’ defense also sacked Ash six times and held him to nine completions on 19 attempts.
“Our defense was solid,” said Kratochvil. “Not as good as the ’71 team (which ranked seventh in the nation in total defense), but still very solid.”
Five Scots defenders earned All-MWC honors in 1972 – Rueckert and Charlie Goehl in the secondary, as well as linebacker Jim Smith and linemen Warren Wilson and Steve Pinkus.
“We didn’t do anything really special,” said Goehl. “We didn’t blitz a lot. Most times in the huddle, we just called ‘Split 6 Regular,’ which is like a 4-4. We had a good, strong group of guys, and we just lined up and played.”
for the record
Burk’s son, Dusty, could also throw. Tim Burk had a hand in his son’s record-setting high school career at Tuscola, traveling to West Virginia along with Tuscola head coach Stan Wienke to learn the intricacies of the no-huddle offense from Rich Rodriguez. The pair then unleashed the offense on eastern Illinois opponents, and Dusty finished his prep career with state records of 7,526 passing yards and 83 TDs. He went on to be the starting quarterback for Illinois State for parts of three seasons and later played professionally.