EDITOR'S NOTE: The Falconer-Southwestern football rivalry resumes Friday night at Bill Race Field. Following are some memories from that cross-town series that dates to 1927.
Matt Mazgaj hasn't pulled on a Southwestern football uniform for eight years, but he still remembers a conversation he had with teammate Matt Langworthy when the Trojans squared off against arch-rival Falconer in the fall of 2004.
"I remember telling Matt during the game about how difficult it was to bring down Falconer running back Curt Jones,'' Mazgaj said. "He was the best running back I ever played against, and I had the privilege of living with him (at Washington & Jefferson College). A great friendship, amongst others, was formed, in part, out of this rivalry. It truly is a great rivalry and an important first step to any Southwestern or Falconer season.''
While referee Vince Joy watches the play from behind, Falconer running back Joe Mistretta tries to avoid a tackle by Southwestern’s Dan Miraglia during their 1976 game on a snowy field.
P-J file photo by Richard W. Hallberg
The Trojans ended up squeaking out a 13-12 victory, courtesy of quarterback Chad Bush's touchdown pass to Eric Stevens on the final play. Chris Stoddard's extra point was the difference.
"That is one of the most vivid football memories I have,'' Mazgaj said.
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Dewey Thomas' favorite memory in the 84-game rivalry came on a snow-covered field at Falconer Central School in 1976.
A senior center that season, Thomas was part of a team that was in the midst of a long winning streak, one that reached 25 following the Golden Falcons' 25-0 victory over the Trojans on Nov. 5, his final game.
According to Post-Journal accounts, Falconer rolled up 305 total yards, but the 10 that drew the most attention came on a play known as "41 trap block.'' Tailback Joe Mistretta took a handoff from quarterback Phil Lombardo and scampered into the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown.
The key block on that play came from Thomas.
"I never thought about it,'' he said, "until people brought it to my attention.''
The reason for the excitement from the Falconer sideline was because he had knocked first-team all-state linebacker Dan Fafinski off his feet to clear the way for Mistretta. Thomas never saw the replay of the block until almost a year later when he and his former teammates pulled out the 8-millimeter film.
"I remember Joey saying, "Watch what Dewey does,'' Thomas said. "I took one, two, three steps and knocked (Fafinski) off his feet, the guard pulled, Joey did his side step and right through the hole to the end zone. I thought, 'Cool.'''
What made that block part of Falconer lore was because Fafinski was - and still is - remembered as one of the greatest players to ever come out of this area.
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Stoddard (Southwestern Class of 2007) remembers the atmosphere before and during the game with Falconer "unlike any other."
"There are 3,500-plus people in the crowd and you're playing for the name on the front of your jersey. Then there is the game-winning extra-point on (Falconer's) home field.
''But my favorite memory of this rivalry would have to be singing the alma mater with your teammates/friends and the feeling of being victorious. There is one stat that matters, it's in the W column, and starting off the season with a W against your cross-town rival is a great way to start.
"I don't remember many games, but I remember all four (against Falconer).''
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Mistretta (Class of 1977), the do-everything Falconer star, remembers what happened in the locker room before the ball was kicked off against Southwestern.
"We played in an era when we won all the games,'' he said, "and we had some of the most unbelievable pregame speeches, and that game was even a little higher. Every game, we left that locker room on such an emotional high and that carried over through the first quarter. If we had 30 guys on that team, we had 30 guys with the same mentality. Everybody was on the same page emotionally. We used to get hurt in the pregame pileup.''
Mistretta said the rivalry with the Trojans has been handed down from one generation to the next.
"There was no state playoffs (back then),'' he said. "For us, that game was our state playoffs. That game was like our Super Bowl. We won three Super Bowls."
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Bill Race grew up in Archbald, Pa., which is 10 miles north of Scranton, and played football at Archbald High School. He later coached the game at Falconer for 33 years and won 174 games.
The annual showdown against Southwestern, he maintains, is the "most exciting thing I've been involved in."
"We started preparing for that game the last day of the (previous) football season,'' he said.
He remembers one year when senior Mike Garvey was so amped up before kickoff that he missed the "panic bar" on the door leading out of the locker room at Southwestern, broke the glass and lacerated his forearm.
"He was so excited he ran through the door,'' Race said.
Refusing to go to the hospital, Garvey played the game with his arm wrapped in gauze and tape. The hospital could wait.
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Robbie Newell was a captain on last year's Southwestern team that reached the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C championship game in Syracuse.
But Newell, a center, remembers his favorite play came against Falconer when quarterback Jake Pilling scored on a long touchdown run.
"It was an (isolation) up the middle that Jake ran for 76 yards for the score," Newell said. "It really was an electric play.''
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When the 1976 season ended with Falconer's shutout win over the Trojans, Race gathered his players in the school's wrestling room for one final meeting. As the Golden Falcons began peeling off their uniforms, Thomas said Race began to speak.
"Guys,'' Thomas recalled his coach saying, "I just want to tell you all, you played a great game. It was fantastic how you performed, and, you seniors, I want to tell you ''
Thomas said Race's voice trailed off, he opened the door and left the room in tears.
The players did the same, falling to the mats, sobbing.
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On Friday night, the Trojans and Golden Falcons square off in the 85th meeting between the schools. The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Bill Race Field. Southwestern leads the series, 42-33-9, courtesy of its current 15-game winning streak.
Trojans' coach Jay Sirianni grew up watching the Southwestern rivalry when his father, Fran, was the coach in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Jay later played in the game in the early 1990s and now he's in his 10th year leading the program at his alma mater.
When asked in The Post-Journal's Gridiron, due out Thursday, to name the Trojans' key game of the season, he didn't hesitate.
"Week One,'' Sirianni said. "It's Falconer and it's our rival and it's a league game. It's unique having that game at the beginning of the year. There's a lot riding on that game because it's a league game.''
But judging from the history of the series - it dates to 1927 - and the comments of a few of the players in it, this rivalry is in a league of its own.