This homecoming week, the people of Craig will be treated to a special homecoming beyond the normal festivities.
The 1967 Moffat County High School football team, the most successful team in the school’s history, will be hosted at events and honored before the Oct. 5 homecoming football game vs. Summit.
The team was composed of a large group of outstanding senior athletes. The Bulldogs had four players selected to the all-state team and 11 on the all-conference team.
The ’67 Bulldogs are a singular entity in Moffat County football. Their playoff run was the longest in school history when it happened, and they remain the only team to play for a state championship to this day.
A talented, committed group
The class of 1968 had a wealth of athletes which made a big difference in all sports that season, but especially football. It also helped that several good athletes had moved to Craig from Meeker during High School, including all-state players Dan Carpenter and Mike McCleery.
“When I grew up in Meeker we had a motto that went, ‘The ’68 will go to state, cause that’s the year the studs graduate,’” Carpenter said. “When I moved to Craig, that group had the same motto. Maybe not exactly word for word because they weren’t as good at rhyming, but we always thought we would go to state and win it.”
It didn’t always look like a strong group. The football teams during the class of ‘68’s sophomore and junior years weren’t very good.
“We lost every game but one the year before (as juniors) and the year before that (as sophomores), and we were done with it,” McCleery said. “There was no reason for it, because there was plenty of good athletes, good size, good speed.”
But several factors played into the team’s improvement. For one, as McCleery said, they were sick of losing. The group of seniors got together before the season and pledged to each other they would take it lightly.
“It’s just a bunch of guys who got together and they were tired of losing,” McCleery said.
Bob Tucker was a key member of the teams until he died in a car accident after the football season in their junior year. His loss played a role in the team’s change of attitude.
“Bob, he was a tremendous athlete,” Carpenter said. “He could’ve been an all-state halfback. He got killed in a car accident and I think we kind of, without preaching it, we dedicated our season to him. He was always a standout, like Mike Loyd.”
The team’s new outlook led to differences on and off the field. In addition to piling up wins, practice was a different animal.
“That year, our senior year, is the only time I remember liking practice,” said Carpenter, who went on to play football at the University of New Mexico. “Practice was hard, but it was fun. It was strange, it wasn’t ever like that before. We didn’t really fool around, it was all business, but it was fun.”
A banner season
The Bulldogs enjoyed an undefeated regular season in conference play, losing only to Rawlins (Wyo.) in a non-conference game.
At that time, a team still had to win its conference in order to make the state playoffs. Going into the final game of the year, Moffat County was visiting Meeker with both teams undefeated.
The Bulldogs and Cowboys, battled to a 0-0 tie and then played a 12-play, sudden-death overtime that would have contemporary football fans scratching their heads.
The overtime format spotted the ball at the 50-yard line and had the teams alternate offensive plays, trying to move the ball. If either team scored, the game was over. If, after 12 plays neither team had scored, the team to move the ball more effectively would be declared the winner.
According to Carpenter, on Moffat County’s fifth play, they were on the wrong side of the 50 by about five yards. But star running back Mike Loyd broke through for a touchdown, sealing the game and a trip to the state playoffs.
“It was down to the last play,” Carpenter said. “Every year I had played Meeker up that point, they had won by one point. That year we won in overtime. That was TV stuff.”
The Bulldogs ran through their first two playoff games before falling to Julesberg, 33-19 in the state championship.
According to the game story in the 1968 MCHS yearbook, Julesberg scored on two first half fumbles to take a 14-0 lead, and Moffat County was not able to recover.
“We fumbled twice and they scored on both of them,” Carpenter said. “Other than that, we beat them.”
Ron Schaeffer, a halfback on the team, was the ball carrier on the fumbles, and remembers it well.
“Playing in a championship game is a unique experience,” Schaeffer said. “But boy, I fumbled twice in the first half, and they scored on both of those. I always have that in the back of my mind. I’ve played that game a lot of times since, but it always turns out the same.”
Stories from the field
Despite the bitter taste of defeat from the final game of their careers, the group of seniors that made up the core of the 1967 team have fond memories of the season.
“You do have a lot of good memories, though (from playing),” Schaeffer said. “You develop a lot of relationships that last a lifetime. There are guys who you might not see for 20 to 30 years but when you get back together it takes no time.”
Carpenter is a wealth of stories about games and teammates, including their goofy antics.
“One thing we laugh about when we get together is John Charchalis,” Carpenter said. “He was a guard. When he’d run onto the field, he would hold his arms out like he was an airplane and zig-zag out on the field. Sometimes he would even run around the other team’s huddle before he’d come over to ours. It was a hoot. You know, it’s a serious game and he would run onto the field like he was a third-grade airplane pilot.”
Both Carpenter and Schaeffer consistently came back to the team’s star back, Mike Loyd. Loyd played for the University of Colorado football team after Moffat County, when they were a top-20 team in the country.
Schaeffer remembers him as an unstoppable force.
“Loyd, he was the ultimate,” he said. “He was built so it was really hard to tackle him. He wasn’t much taller than me but he was big. He was the best athlete to come out of Craig that I’ve ever seen.”
During the Bulldogs’ state run, Loyd became something of a mythical figure, being dubbed as the “Mountain Man from Craig” by the press.
Carpenter recalled a story of his teammates taking advantage of Loyd’s fame.
“(Loyd) was called the Mountain Man from Craig, cause he was bigger than any back in the state probably, and they said something like he was fed on just venison and beans,” Carpenter said. “The night before the game in the motel, a bunch of little kids came knocking on the door wanting to see the Mountain Man, and (quarterback) Jan Ellsworth was charging them a quarter to get to look in the room. I think he made a couple dollars on that.”
Honoring the team
Members of the team will be honored during homecoming week in Craig. Among others involved with the team, 17 players will be in Craig to be honored at prime rib dinner Thursday night. A limited number of tickets for the dinner are available to the public for $25. Proceeds will help fund the MCHS student council’s efforts to attend the presidential inauguration in January 2013. Tickets can be purchased from student council members.
The team also will be recognized during the Homecoming Parade Friday afternoon and before Friday night’s Homecoming game against Summit.
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org