“New Coaches Power Rovers & Crusaders”
With many teams wrestling 15, 17, even 19 dual meets, there was no shortage of fiercely competitive dual meets every week during the 1977-78 season. A lot of talent from the past two years’ tremendous success had graduated, but the cupboard was far from bare.
The ’77-’78 season saw Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Freedom, Liberty and Phillipsburg continue to battle for the top spots in the East Penn League. Nazareth’s and Saucon Valley’s rivalry dated back to the beginning of the Lehigh-Northampton League in 1965 and was no less intense in the 3rd year of the Colonial League. Notre Dame & Stroudsburg had stepped up to challenge Northwestern for league supremacy in the Centennial League, and the current season would find these three teams again fighting for the top spot with a surprising team. Easton and Notre Dame both had new coaches as Bob Zarbatany had retired and Dave Crowell moved into the top spot for the Rovers while Dennis Fenton took over from Jim Angeline for the Crusaders.
The season kicked off on December 1st as Bethlehem Catholic topped Saucon Valley 26-14. Becahi had many returning starters in the first half of their lineup and jumped out to a 17-8 lead. Two days later Saucon rebounded to beat Freedom 24-23 on Jim LaPorta decision at heavyweight.
A dual with early EPL ramifications saw Becahi battle to a 23-20 victory over Liberty. The Hawks opened up an 18-6 lead. Liberty won three of the next four bouts to close to 21-18 but Mike Balik and Chuck Hinkel fought to a 1-1 draw at heavyweight, and Becahi had the win. Gene Waas’ 2-1 win at 119 over defending regional champ and Parkland transfer, Steve Busits, was a key bout in the match. The same evening in a match that only featured one bonus point win, Notre Dame nipped Stroudsburg 23-19 in a key Centennial League match.
On December 15th, two key EPL duals were on the schedule. Easton strung together four wins in a row from 138-167 (Mark Noto, Bob Clause, Steve Stone and Gary Vinson) to stage a comeback and top Liberty 26-21. Gary Carty (126) and Stone (155) both scored falls. Phiilipsburg had falls from Kevin Happel (98) and John Margeson (145) along with key wins by John Rutledge (9-7 over Gene Waas at 119) and Tim Osborn (3-2 over Tony Wittic at 132) to defeat Bethlehem Catholic 25-20. The same night, Saucon Valley with pins from John Rodriguez (145) and Jim LaPorta (Hwt) defeated Wilson 30-18.
On December 17th, Easton defeated Nazareth 26-19 in a non-league match. On December 22nd, East Stroudsburg announced itself as the “surprise team” in the Centennial League by stunning Northwestern 30-19. Rich Jacobs (119) and Lue Nase (Hwt) both scored falls.
In the Christmas City Tournament, the Banach Brothers (Ed and Lou) led Port Jervis to the team title as they tallied five champions. Nazareth with three champs (Jeff Tripp at 112, Keith Fairman at 119 and Robbie Albert at 145) edged Bethlehem Catholic with three champs (Rich Santoro at 105, Tom Bold at 132 and Bernie Brown at 155) for 2nd place. East Stroudsburg finished 2nd in the Wallenpaupack Tourney with three champions. Easton won their own tournament as Mark Noto (132), Rick Scarpantonio (145) and Tim DeLong (167) won titles. Phillipsburg won the Manheim Central Tournament with three champs (Frank Losagio at 98, John Rutledge at 112 and Jim Clauss at 138).
The post-holiday dual action saw Bethlehem Catholic defeat Freedom 26-21 leaving Easton and P-Burg as the only undefeated teams in the EPL. Nazareth crushed Wilson 44-8 to again set up their match with Saucon Valley as the Colonial League championship battle. In the Centennial League, Northwestern trailed Notre Dame 19-15 with three bouts to go, but Mark Blose, Frank Metzger and Doug Rothrock won decisions to give the Tigers a 24-19 victory.
On January 12th, Nazareth won 7 of 12 bouts including falls by Jeff Tripp (112), Todd Lahr (167) and Al Haberle (185) to defeat Saucon Valley 30-15 and all but lock up the Colonial League title. The same evening, Freedom knocked off Phillipsburg 25-20 won several close bouts in the middleweights and got a fall from Dennis Young at 185. In a back and forth match, Bethlehem Catholic led Easton 21-16 before Tim DeLong and Dan Kasperkoski won decisions to give the Rovers a 22-21 win to stand as the only unbeaten EPL team. Mark Noto’s fall at 132 over Tony Wittic provided key bonus points.
Stroudsburg on the strength of falls from Randy Garis (138) and John Tomanio (145) defeated Northwestern 29-19. Notre Dame took over the Centennial League lead by beating East Stroudsburg 26-18; the Crusaders won 7 of 8 bouts from 112 to 167. Then on January 31st, Stroudsburg nipped East Stroudsburg 23-21.
On February 2nd, after trailing Freedom 20-11, roared back with falls from Gary Vinson and Dan Kasperkoski and a major decision by Tim DeLong to extend their unbeaten streak in the EPC to 39 with a 27-20 victory. Nazareth won the Colonial League title by beating Bangor 51-2. Stroudsburg clinched a share of the Centennial League title by winning the final four bouts to defeat Pocono Mountain 30-20.
One week later, Easton led early, but saw rival Phillipsburg battle back to lead 20-16 with two bouts to go. Tim DeLong and Dan Kasperkoski again delivered wins, and the Rovers extended their unbeaten streak in the EPC to 41. The Rovers won the match and the EPL title 22-20. Freedom built a huge lead and held off Liberty 26-25.
Phillipsburg’s middleweights led the way as they topped Liberty 24-21. Notre Dame defeated Lehighton 46-14 to claim their share of the Centennial League title.
The regular season ended with the following league champions:
East Penn League – Easton 11-0 (17-0 Overall)
Colonial League – Nazareth 8-0 (13-2 Overall)
Centennial League – Notre Dame & Stroudsburg – tied at 7-1 (14-1 & 12-3 Overall, respectively)