The 1978 DeSales High School football team lost just two of nine regular-season games — to McLoughlin (Ore.) and Class A powerhouse Connell.
Former head coach Dave Curtis, who held the post for a decade, suggested recently that gaudy showing set the stage for an historic campaign in 1979 that ended with a Yakima Valley League East Division crown and a state quarterfinal berth.
“The success of 1978 led into the 1979 season,” Curtis said. “We had a lot of returners. We could run and throw. We were hard to stop and had a very good defense.”
Key seniors on the ‘79 team, Curtis said, were linemen Robbie Loiacono, Tom Vinti, and Mike Elia; Rod Fazzari (wide receiver/defensive back); Joe Klundt (offensive line/linebacker); Jim Lyons (quarterback/defensive back); Dan Rahn (tailback); and Mike Spiess (fullback/linebacker).
Contributing juniors were linemen Gene Curcio, Mark Destito, and Sean Kelly, and receiver/defensive back Jerry Anhorn, Curtis said
Receiver Brian Richard represented the sophomore class, Curtis said.
DeSales went through the first two thirds of the ‘79 season undefeated. Kiona-Benton and River View were among the teams beaten by the Irish in September and the early portion of October.
Injuries to Spiess and Rahn soured Homecoming Weekend. So did a 21-20 loss to Columbia-Burbank.
“We were ahead late, but had to punt,” Curtis said. “They blocked it and ran it in for a touchdown.”
The Irish faced another key punting situation the following week in Colfax. This time, Irish eyes were smiling about the end result.
“Our punter was six or seven yards deep in the end zone and they decided to bring the house,” Curtis said. “Jim Lyons called an audible. He threw the ball to Rod Fazzari and he took it about 70 yards.
“A lot of people thought I’d called it,” Curtis said. “Jim took the shot.”
That shot proved to be the tonic DeSales needed in a 21-18 victory.
The Irish hosted Connell in their regular-season finale on a chilly Saturday afternoon in early November. DeSales soared past the Eagles to claim the league title and a state playoff ticket.
“It was a great game,” Curtis said. “It went back and forth. We were running the ball late to take time off the clock. We kept calling (running plays). We were able to hold on at the end.
“The crowd stormed the field (afterward),” Curtis said. “It was an awesome moment, that’s for sure.”
DeSales beat Riverside in the opening round of the state playoffs before bowing to eventual state champion Omak.
The Omak experience wasn’t a total downer for Curtis. It gave him the opportunity to reunite with Omak assistant coach and former Philadelphia Eagle, Eastern Washington University teammate, and All-America wide receiver Bob Picard.
“He spent a lot of time helping me,” Curtis, an ex-EWU quarterback, said. “It was fun.”
Mentality, toughness and a commitment to the weight room were traits of Curtis’ Irish teams.
But perhaps nothing captures the identity of the ‘79 ballclub more than a quote he offered for the 1980 yearbook.
“The best honor a team can earn is to be remembered,” Curtis said. “No one will forget the fifth best team in the state.”
Roy Elia can be reached at email@example.com.