History was made at Tad Gormley Stadium on a chilly, sunny October Saturday afternoon in 1967. A game that heralded two of Louisiana’s finest high school football teams entered the field before an overflow crowd of 24,500 spectators.
The throng came to see Holy Cross, the No. 1 ranked team in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A face a new, imposing rival. That foe was St. Augustine, which had dominated the gridiron of the African American body of teams that made up the Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization (LIALO). Both were loaded with talent.
Holy Cross had returned the nucleus of its 1966 squad which held 10 opponents to a mere 14 points before a shocking 20-7 loss to Broadmoor in the first round of the playoffs. The Tigers had lost All-State quarterback Herman “Butch” Duhe to graduation, but had a more than capable backup in Bobby Wattigney returning. Coach John Kalbacher’s defense was also loaded with All-District players, including linemen Tom Besselman, Larry Arthur and Jesse Truax and linebacker Larry Gaudet.
On the other side were the Purple Knights, winners of 26 straight games and the LIALO championship before joining the LHSAA and Catholic League in the summer of 1966. The school tried for three years to join the association, but was turned down on every occasion. But St. Aug principal, Salesian Father Robert Grant, successfully sued the LHSAA in federal court to gain admission the hard way.
So the game had much implication on the future of prep sports in Louisiana. And nearly 25,000 wanted to see which would win this classic and historic confrontation between black and white athletic programs.
Retired New Orleans Police Major, Melvin Howard, a wide receiver for St. Augustine, recalled that day and game 46 years later.
“We were 26-0,” he said. “I didn’t remember what it was like to lose a football game until my senior year.” It was a shock to Howard and his talented teammates when they opened the 1967 season with a 30-27 loss to Washington in Lake Charles. But that setback gave the Purple Knights of coach Eddie Flint new resolve to vindicate themselves by winning the Catholic League.
Holy Cross lost its first game, as well; a 13-7 decision against LaGrange another Lake Charles school. Neither lost again leading up to their district clash.
Still allowed to play LIALO opponents in pre-district competition, the Knights defeated McKinley, 25-13; John Martyn, 40-0, and Landry, 28-0, before opening Catholic League play against St. Aloysius. A demonstrative 26-7 win over the Crusaders gave the London Ave., school all the confidence it needed to take on Holy Cross.
“I remember that game,” Howard said. “Our star back, Harold Solomon, was one of the quickest backs in the state. He would run past the line and guys would be catching air trying to tackle him.”
Holy Cross’ defense had to find a way to slow the senior back down while St. Aug’s coaches had to find a way to block the large and hard-hitting Tiger defense.
“I watched film of Holy Cross games and I knew it would be a difficult game,” Howard related. “They were the champions of the league. I knew we could score on them, but defensively they weren’t going to give us anything we couldn’t earn for ourselves.”
Yes, the Tigers were fierce competitors. Following that loss, they brushed aside Nicholls, 38-0; Warren Easton, 34-0; East Jefferson, 31-0; then opened district play with wins over Rummel, 55-7, and archrival Jesuit, 22-13. They were fit and ready for St. Augustine.
But the Tigers’ poise wasn’t matched by the Purple Knights that day.
“Holy Cross was impressive and I admit I was nervous,” Howard said. “I didn’t feel right. We were not accustomed to playing during the day. St. Augustine played its games at night in the LIALO. So that was something we all had to get used to.
“Holy Cross had an end named Jesse Truax, who played both ways, and he stood 6-7 and weighed about 280 pounds.”
The Tigers also had a hard-hitting offensive line upon which Besselman, Arthur and center Joe Thobodeaux assisted Truax as blockers.
Defensively, the Holy Cross coaches coaches told the backs and linebackers that whenever Solomon ran a pass route to make hard contact with him whether the ball was being thrown his way or not. He eventually became wary of their presence and was not a factor in the Knights’ passing game. But Howard was as the main target for quarterback Floyd Sandle’s passes and he was effective.
After Holy Cross built a two-touchdown lead, Solomon scored on a 20-yard run. Sandle tallied from three yards out and fullback Stanley Wiltz tallied from the 5.
The deciding factor was another two-way player for Holy Cross, wingback Ken Hrapmann and a late safety that iced the win for Holy Cross.
“I remember Kenny,” Howard noted. “He broke two long runs on us.” The 160-pound senior scored on a 48-yard pass from Wattigney and on a six yard run. He also ran for three extra points as the Tigers prevailed, 29-21.
Hrapmann led the city with 18 touchdowns scored and was the No. 3 rusher (643 yards) behind Redemptorist’s Billy Garrity (1,084) and Solomon (741), Hrapmann and Howard became teammates at Northwestern State University the next year.
“We had this thing going about which of us was faster. We still speak to each other about once a year,” Howard said. Hrapmann was named to the Demons Hall of Fame following his outstanding collegiate career.
Holy Cross went on to play for and lose the 1967 state championship to Airline, 20-7. St. Augustine finished the season 3-7 record.
But over the 40 games played against one another, the Purple Knights lead the series 27-13.
This week’s rematch will mark the first time the two will square off as Catholic League rivals since 2004.