A game they'll never forget
The grudge matches between Taft Union High School and Bakersfield has been the subject of newspapers, books magazines and major motion pictures (The Best of Times). For those who followed the Wildcats in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s 80’s and beyond, those battles with larger Bakersfield schools have been unforgettable. The epic games that shaped the Taft Wildcat brand as being tenacious include a game played 50 years ago. On November 20, 1970 tailback Monty Reedy led a team of local kids who had played together on Taft yards, streets, and practice fields since kindergarten.
Reedy came from pedigree football genes. His father Monty Reedy Senior had earned Taft a Valley Championship in 1930. On November 20, with the elder Reedy at quarterback Taft tied Bakersfield High School 13-13. Five days later, Reedy directed them to a 19-6 win over BHS. They won the Valley title over Lindsay and Reedy went on to play for Cal-Berkeley for four years.
1970: A HUGE RIVALRY
That fall, forty years later, a South Sequoia League title confrontation emerged between Bakersfield’s number one parochial school, the Garces Rams, and the tiny Taft Wildcats. It looked to be a runaway for the team on Panorama Drive who had recruited more talent than any other team in the San Joaquin Valley. The Rams, tired of being a “middle of the pack” team in the 1960’s decided to add something new to their gridiron program: Recruitment.
Outstanding Taft High player, coach and Athletic Director Larry Brown recalls those days. “In 1968, Garces realized by offering scholarships to outstanding Kern County players, they could become more competitive. By 1969, they had won a league title and the prospect of continuing that tradition was in their sights.
DeAnn (Gaither) Sampley, a Taft cheerleader who went on to cheer at Bakersfield College was shocked to see how many of the ’70 Garces team went on to start at BC. “There were at least 11 of the guys Taft played against who were a big part of the BC program. I think it’s safe to say the team Taft defeated in 1970 had more size, speed and talent than any other team in the Valley.”
What these Garces All-Stars did not know is that a determined Wildcat team was coming to their house to avenge the loss from 1969. They also brought a group of loyal Taft fans who packed Sam Tobias Field beyond capacity. “It was standing room only,” Sampley remembers, “fans in the isles, standing around the field fence. The emotions ran high. Our group of cheerleaders: Joan Cook, Pam Colston, Kerrye Kuntz and Sharly Wheeler, ran across the field to tear down a Garces sign that said, ‘Stop Speedy Reedy.’ The Taft crowd went crazy.”
Taft center Roger Miller remembers the bus ride to Garces was deafly quiet. “I’ve been on a lot of bus trips with some good high school and college teams. I’ve never been on a bus where it was obvious everyone was speechless concentrating on what they could do to win the game.”
Although undefeated in SSL play, no one expected Taft to compete with Garces. The Rams had lost only one game in two years. That happened because their quarterback lost his mouthpiece and a touchdown was nullified. The only other blemish on their record was a tie to powerhouse Bakersfield High School. Furthermore, the game was to be played at “The Holy Land” Sam Tobias field. The playing surface was wet, unlevel, full of gopher holes and weeds. The poor footing promised to slow down the unstoppable Reedy. Daily Midway Driller reporter Tom O’Brien wrote that Garces was a 10-point favorite. Phil Klusman, of the Bakersfield Californian said the spread was 20. All the chips were on the table as both teams had handily beaten league rivals Wasco, Highland, Arvin and Shafter.
Wildcat Head Coach the late Don Dudley recounted that he had tried to keep the team loose all week. He felt his 1969 team had chocked under pressure when they lost the prior year.“ I remember it rained the Wednesday before the 1970 game, Instead of running drills and scrimmaging, I found a huge mud puddle on the practice field and told the guys to run and slide as far as they could.
In the words of Klusman, “Taft’s offense was basic. They just gave the ball to Reedy between the tackles and as a result he didn’t have the spectacular night he was used to in previous games.”
A great offense wasn’t needed as long as the ‘Cats controlled the ball and kept it away from the hands of All-League running back Tony Bernardin and the passing arm of QB John Roberts. Garces offensive and defensive tackle John Haupt recollected 50 years later, “We would have won that game if it weren’t for (expletive) Reedy.”
As the 12-6 final score implied, the game was a defensive struggle. However, at the end of the first quarter, Taft got its first break as a 56-yard punt by Tim Zumbro was fumbled on the Ram 23 and offensive guard Mark Kelley recovered the ball. Four plays later the Wildcats were on the scoreboard with QB Danny Carroll throwing an eight-yard TD to John Miller. The extra point was blocked, and the ensuing Taft kickoff was returned for a touchdown by Bernardin. It would be the only points Garces would score all night.
Halftime saw the Wildcats emotionally charged. Coach Dudley also got into the act. He recounted while accepting an award from his team ten years ago a locker room incident that took place at halftime. Dudley spoke emotionally, “We were outplaying them. The score was 6-6, and the only Garces score took place on a kick-off return. I was incredibly angry and I saw a trash can in the locker room. I kicked it at least 20 feet sending trash everywhere. It must have made an impression on the team, because I never saw a group take the field as fired up as those Wildcats were.”
Taft’s defense continued to stifle the Rams. With nine minutes left in the third quarter, Taft started a drive that included a couple of 20-yard passes from Carroll to Miller and a six-yard touchdown run by Reedy.
Not until the end of the fourth quarter did the Rams threaten. Garces punter Matt Brast lofted a kick downfield that touched defensive end Chuck Shappard who was laying on the ground at mid-field. The Rams had three minutes to win the game. They ran a fake rollout by QB Roberts. That included a deceptive handoff draw play to Bernardin who went to the 15. Three plays later, the ‘Cat defense reacted as the Rams lost 24 yards on those plays thanks to tackles by Mike Kili, Greg Price and Ted Eubanks. The Taft offense was able to run out the clock with their usual running plays featuring Reedy.
Reedy recalled after the game that coach Dudley knew the recipe for winning. “He understood that in high school sports, x’s and o’s do not win games, it was about pushing young boys towards the path of becoming men. He knew that every person on the field counted and he knew how to use their strengths against bigger opponents. He not only taught football, but he also taught those around him how to be honest, humble, caring, and responsible. Friday night high school football does not get any better than November 20, 1970. SSL Champions, friendships for life, and the memory of a football coach we will never forget,” he said
Center Miller recalled the triumphant end of the game. “It seemed like everyone you ever knew growing up in Taft was on that field, ecstatic. Cheerleaders were crying, the band was playing the Wildcat fight song and coach Dudley was grinning from ear to ear.” Offensive end John Miller said the victory bell was a mob scene. “We must have rung that bell for an hour. Everyone, including the crowd wanted a turn at it.” For offensive guard Pete Howard, there was an even greater reward. Howard had transferred to Taft from Garces his junior year. His old Garces classmates assured him the ‘Cats could never match up with the Rams.
The final and perhaps most profound moment of glory came from defensive coordinator the late Addison Fancon. He addressed the team in a serious tone, then sarcastically stated: “Hail Mary Full of Grace…Garces High is Second Place.”
(Interesting sidebar: Bakersfield Californian reporter Phil Klusman continued to write until 1986. At the age of 43, he was struck in the head and killed by an errant practice hammer throw at a track meet. It happened at Cal State Los Angeles at a NCAA Division II event. A journalism scholarship was established in his name.
Daily Midway Driller reporter Tom O’Brien was the trainer and track coach at Taft High for more than 30 years. He retired and moved to Southern California in the mid 1980’s. He was a track official at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was inducted into the Bob Elias Hall of fame in Bakersfield in 2009.)