The Clarkston class of 1969 will gather for its 50-year reunion this weekend, just as the towns of Lewiston and Clarkston hold their annual rivalry football game (7 tonight at Bengal Field). Some of those returning to town last played for the Bantams in a ’68 game against the Bengals that went down to the wire, occasioning a look-back by the Tribune.
SETTING THE SCENE
Entering the 1968 River Rivalry, Lewiston boasted six straight wins against Clarkston after winning the previous year, 40-19. But the Bantams entered with a better record (6-2) than the Bengals (4-3-1) when the teams met on Nov. 8, 1968, at Adams Field, to stage their final game of the season.
“Lewiston typically dominated,” Clarkston quarterback Bob Stratton said. “But because of our running game, we were were definitely favored.”
Clarkston featured a talented backfield that included future Washington State running back Steve Brown. Other future college football players for the Bantams included two-way lineman Tom Rainville (who got a scholarship to Columbia Basin College) and Stratton (who played at the Air Force Academy).
Lewiston itself listed two future college football players: receiver and safety Keith Harding (who went on to play at the University of Idaho) and kicker Butch McIntyre — who, at the time, had yet to even attempt a field goal in a varsity game (but went on to kick for the freshman team at Idaho State).
The junior flew below the Bantams’ radar, Clarkston coach Harley Williams said.
“I’d never heard of (McIntyre),” Williams said. “We didn’t even consider him a threat. We didn’t know anything about him. We didn’t practice anything against a field goal, especially in the mud.”
As the Bantams held a pregame pep rally, Rainville remembers “torrential downpours.”
“It poured buckets of water and we knew the field wasn’t going to take all that water,” Rainville said.
McIntyre said the mud on the field stood six inches deep.
“The whole field, it was liquid mud,” McIntyre said. “It was hard to run, hard to throw. Everyone was tip-toeing around because you couldn’t make sharp cuts.”
In addition to the mud, the cold weather also frustrated players.
“It was miserable,” Lewiston quarterback Gary White said. “Any time you’ve got the rain coming down and you’re in the end of October into November, it’s cold. And boy, your hands — we didn’t have anything to keep them warm and that ball would just hit your hands and it stung.”
The cold also made it difficult for players to get their footing.
“It was like walking on ice,” Stratton said.
With both teams limited on offense, the contest resembled a shoving match.
“We’d push them around and they’d push us around,” Williams said. “We’d always get each other stopped in the middle of the field, where it was muddiest.
“We couldn’t handle the ball and we also couldn’t get it to the outside of the field, where it was less muddy. If you could get it out there, there was some grass you could try to go to. But we didn’t do that very well.”
Neither team passed the ball well either. Clarkston attempted three passes and Lewiston one. Neither team completed any.
“Sometimes, you could hardly tell that the ball was in your hands, your hands were almost numb,” White said. “If you’d try to pass, you just had your palms open and had the ball in them and gave the ball a heave.”
The conditions handcuffed Clarkston’s leading rusher.
“I pulled Gene Taylor,” Williams said, explaining he thought Taylor relied too much on speed to effectively run in the mud. “And that’s where I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have pulled him out. I should have played him more.”
THE FIELD GOALS
At the age of 2, McIntyre threw a ball into a window and a piece of glass severed the optical nerve in his right eye. So when he kicked field goals in high school, McIntyre did so with the use of only one eye.
“(Having just my left eye) didn’t bother me,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre still can envision the juxtaposition between his jersey and the jerseys belonging to the rest of the players as he jogged out to attempt his first varsity field goal in the first quarter.
“I just remember, it was so muddy that as I was going out to kick in a white uniform, everybody else was brown, on both sides,” he said.
Lewiston assistant Ron Karlberg admitted he felt nervous when head coach Dwight Church sent McIntyre in to attempt a 33-yarder.
“Butch, he was just a young guy who worked hard, no matter what his liabilities were,” Karlberg said. “He was just a great athlete, great kid. I was probably just as shocked as anybody when he kicked two field goals.
“We never thought we’d have to rely on field goals and what concerned you were the field conditions, since there was always a chance for slipping. But (McIntyre) went out there and just calmly put them through — just like it was no big deal.”
While McIntyre’s first field goal went smoothly, his second attempt two quarters later got off to a rocky start.
Lewiston’s long snapper delivered a high snap, requiring holder Rick Hundrup to make a “good effort to even catch the ball,” McIntyre said.
Even so, Hundrup caught the high snap and laid it down perfectly on the 4-by-4 inch plastic tee the Bengals used.
McIntyre hit that 35-yard field goal to give Lewiston a 6-0 lead in the third. But Clarkston fought to the end and made things interesting in the fourth.
A GOAL-LINE STAND
With 7:21 left in the game, Clarkston’s Brown scored a 5-yard rushing touchdown, tying the game at 6. But the Bantams faced a tough decision: Should they attempt an extra point, or go for two?
An extra point seemed dicey, since the constant downpour during the game left standing water right where the team needed to kick from.
“The area I was kicking from, it was all underwater,” Rainville said. “Even if you’re kicking off a tee, the tee was still almost underwater.”
Clarkston’s Jim Fuller recalled thinking a two-point conversion at that moment sounded sensible.
“You had the best runner in the whole game, on either side, in (Brown), who had a lot of yardage,” Fuller said.
Stratton said his coach found himself “stuck between a rock and a hard place.
“The running game was horrible,” Stratton said. “But the kicking game was also horrible.”
The Bantams decided to go for two, handing the ball to Brown.
What happened next is a point of contention: Lewiston’s players claim Harding stopped Brown by himself. Stratton believes Brown possibly slipped in the mud before Harding got to him.
Regardless, the result was clear: Lewiston stopped the Bantams short and the score stayed knotted.
Neither team scored the rest of the game — and the contest ended in a 6-6 tie.
A TIE THEY CAN LIVE WITH
While nobody gets carried off the field after a tie, the Bengals felt like they’d dodged a bullet.
“It was just really a mismatch,” Lewiston player Rick Tierney said. “I think we were picked to lose that game. So for us to tie, that was pretty incredible.”
McIntyre felt similarly pleased.
“It was pretty exciting for sure,” McIntyre said. “I was hoping to get a date after that, but I don’t know if I did.”
IN MEMORIAM — Rick Hundrup died of lung cancer last week and several others mentioned in the article died years earlier. Those are Steve Brown, Gene Taylor, Keith Harding and Dwight Church.
Edelman may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2277.