A Look Back at the 1974 Pali High Football Team’s March to the City Championship Game
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Only once since the school opened in 1961 has Palisades High’s football team reached the City Section championship game.
The year was 1974 and the Dolphins, coached by Dick North and Merritt Stanfield, came within one play of capturing their first gridiron crown. Forty years later, members of that team were invited back to Stadium by the Sea for the Dolphins’ homecoming game and it brought back memories for Rick Myers, one of 16 players from the 1974 squad who attended the 2014 reunion.
Myers was the starting quarterback, punter and placekicker throughout that magical season and he got goosebumps pacing the sidelines in a touching tribute to perhaps the Dolphins’ finest gridiron gang ever.
“In June, I dropped by Pali to introduce myself to [head coach] Tim Hyde and he gathered the team together and asked me to say a few words,” Myers said before watching the Dolphins dismantle University 35-7 that October night. “Offensive line coach Larry Palmer heard we played against Charles White [in the finals] and told me his older brother played against those great San Fernando teams when he played at Granada Hills. He still remembered their lineup and said that was the greatest team he ever saw.”
Joining Myers at the 40th anniversary ceremony were 1974 captain and starting center John Crew, tight end Darion Tapscott, defensive ends Kevin Nelson, Kane Sickner and Greg Sanders, defensive backs Quentin Brown and Jeff Minderhout, backup center Carl Hill, defensive tackles Herman Howard, Tony Balara and Ken Thompson, linebacker Jerry Festa, offensive guards Robert Flowers and Andy Daniels and halfback Ian Rubin, who rushed for 1,129 yards and led the City in scoring that year with 120 points.
Hill fired up the home crowd by shouting “Whose house?” and was thrilled to be back on the field with his former teammates, several of whom traveled across the country to relive their glory days.
Myers was impressed with the Dolphins’ turf field and their team, noting how the game had changed since the 1970s.
“Back then, if I threw 10 passes a game it was a lot,” he said. “The kids nowadays throw more times in one game than I threw the entire season.”
The Dolphins weren’t expected to be title contenders in 1974, but they ended up scoring more points than any team in the City and posted six shutouts (still the school single-season record), including three in the playoffs.
Palisades opened the season with decisive nonleague victories over Belmont, Garfield, San Pedro and South Gate to enter league play unblemished. After crushing Hamilton, Westchester and Venice by a combined score of 99-13, the Dolphins suffered their only setback in the regular season—a 25-15 loss to Crenshaw. It proved to be a much-needed wakeup call as the Dolphins sharpened up for the postseason by shellacking University 58-10 to improve to 8-1.
Palisades blitzed through the first two playoff rounds with ease, blanking Cleveland and Roosevelt to set up a semifinal showdown against reigning City champion Gardena at Santa Monica College.
The defensive stalemate was not decided until the final minute, when Myers tossed a short touchdown pass to wideout Tony Porchia for the game’s only score.
As dominant as Palisades was that year, the San Fernando team it met in the finals on a foggy December 13 night in front of 12,747 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum is regarded as one of the City’s all-time best, led by quarterback Kenny Moore, state 100-yard dash champion Kevin Williams and fullback Charles White, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy at USC. Still, to the Dolphins, the Tigers were just another team. In fact, Palisades was confident it would win since Gardena, the team it beat in the semifinals, had handed San Fernando a 21-7 defeat in its season opener.
“We didn’t know anything about them except that they ran the wishbone and were very fast, but there’s not one of us who doesn’t believe to this day that we were the better team,” said Myers, who grew up in Mandeville Canyon and was also an All-City third baseman on the Dolphins’ baseball team. “We were beating them 3-0 at halftime and they couldn’t move the ball on us.”
Bryant Gumbel, who would go on to become a famous sportscaster at NBC, was the television commentator for the 1974 championship game—the last time only 16 teams made the playoffs (the City Section expanded to two divisions in 1975).
After dropping its first game, San Fernando had reeled off 11 consecutive wins, including playoff victories over Carson (13-7), Wilson (20-13) and Granada Hills (22-15). The speedy Tigers were coached by Bill Marsh and Hewitt Hornbeck. They possessed one of the most vaunted rushing attacks ever seen in Southern California, with Moore handing the ball off to White on the dive play to demoralize their opponents.
Palisades countered with All-City first-teamers Porchia, Rubin, Hooks, offensive tackle Bernard Webb and linebacker Richard Botwinick, along with second-team tailback Jimmy Whaley.
Myers booted a 32-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining in the first half for the game’s first points.
After its wishbone attack was stymied in the first half, San Fernando needed only three plays to take the lead on its first drive of the third quarter, capped by Williams’ dazzling 37-yard run.
Despite two prolific offenses, the game was decided on defense.
Trailing 6-3 late in the third quarter, Palisades chose to try a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line but the Tigers were flagged for encroachment and the Dolphins sent their offensive unit back onto the field. They gave the ball to Rubin, but White was waiting and tackled him head-on at the 2 for no gain.
“I just knew Rubin would get the ball,” White told the Los Angeles Valley News afterward.
On the Dolphins’ first possession of the fourth quarter they went to the shotgun formation and Williams intercepted Myers’ pass and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown that pushed the Tigers’ advantage to 12-3 with 8:42 left.
“The play was in my zone,” Williams later told the LA Valley News. “The receiver didn’t run his usual route and I was right there.”
However, there was no quit in the Dolphins, who moved near midfield on a 10-yard strike from Myers to Porchia, setting up a 51-yard pass-run play from Mike Stennis to Rubin that narrowed Palisades’ deficit to two points with 7:03 remaining.
The teams exchanged punts, then San Fernando held the ball for three minutes while driving all the way to Palisades’ 5 before giving up possession at the 17.
Now attacking solely through the air, Palisades moved to its 31 before calling its last time out with under 40 seconds to play. Stennis connected with Porchia for a 38-yard gain to the San Fernando 31. Following an incomplete pass that stopped the clock with 18 seconds to go, Palisades picked up five more yards on a pass to Rubin and quickly lined up for the game-winning field-goal attempt.
“In those days we were straight-on kickers and I had to come out a play or two before to get my special shoe,” said Myers, who now resides and works in Las
Vegas, where he serves as President of Thomas & Mack Development Group. “We didn’t have any timeouts so I had to go right in and get set. I wasn’t nervous, but I knew it was no good the moment I kicked it.”
Myers hurried into the game and got the kick off before time expired, but his 43-yard try sailed wide right, thus San Fernando escaped with a 12-10 win.
“Missing that kick still haunts me—we almost got it done,” said Myers, who ran the scout team and backed up starting quarterback Vince Evans at USC in 1975, the Trojans’ final season under Coach John McKay. “To this day, we believe we were the better team. It just wasn’t our best night. Coming so close against a team rated one of the best ever makes me proud, but I’m most proud of how we’ve stuck together over the years. At our 40-year high school reunion I played golf with some of my football buddies. It’s nice seeing how they’ve succeeded in life through lessons we learned at Palisades.”
Palisades outgained the Tigers 312-227 while limiting Williams to 74 yards rushing and White to only 64. The Dolphins also had 14 first downs to the Tigers’ 10, yet that was no consolation in the end.
With all of its top skill players returning, San Fernando began the following season ranked No. 1 in the country and went on to repeat as City champion by winning the inaugural 4A (upper division) title. Five of its players made it to the NFL.
Losing its final contest of 1974 certainly stung, but Palisades had reached the championship game in its 14th season, all under North, and set a school single-season record for victories that would be matched just two years later when the Dolphins won their first 11 games before falling to Cleveland, 28-21, in the 4A semifinals.
“Our team had always lost in the first round of the playoffs, so for us it was a really big deal to make it that far,” Myers recalled. “It’s sort of that whole Cinderella story… a surprise team from the west side taking on the big legacy team… and we almost got it done. It was the memory of a lifetime.”
In 1975, Palisades won nine games en route to the league title and avenged a nonleague loss to San Pedro with a 29-6 triumph in the first round of the 4A playoffs before losing to Banning, 32-30. The Pilots lost in the final to San Fernando but won six consecutive 4A titles after that.
North would coach Palisades through 1981, retiring with a total of 117 victories, 76 losses and six ties (a .588 win percentage) and six league titles in his 21 seasons. He piloted the Dolphins to 15 straight league wins from 1974-77 and 10 straight winning seasons (1969-78), both program records.
Since its historic run in 1974, Palisades has only appeared in one City football final—the 3A Division title game in 1987. That year, led by Coach Jack Epstein and quarterback Perry Klein, the Dolphins went 5-0 in the Crosstown League and finished 9-3, losing to Franklin, 30-14, in the final. At that time the City had three playoff divisions (4A, 3A and 2A).
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