Thanksgiving Storm Delayed Perfect Season
Today is the 40th Anniversary of an undefeated Panther team.
Forty Thanksgivings ago, there was no game.
It was 1971 and Holliston High School football was at its zenith. Saturday home games were a scarlet sea as the “Big Red Machine” would descend upon what would one day be Kamitian Field. The team was led by its
charismatic coach, Tom Caito, who upon his arrival had transformed a stagnant program into one of the finest in the state.
According to Buddy Frost, “I was the quarterback. I loved playing the position and always put my teammates first trying to get them into the end zone. Caito was a great coach. He always had us prepared for any situation and was a great motivator.”
“Coach Caito held it all together for us,” agrees former linebacker Cecil Wright. “He was a pretty emotional guy though. We had a
scrimmage with Cranston East before the season started and I got a penalty for unnecessary roughness. I was in the air trying to tackle the runner when the whistle blew, so I really couldn’t help myself. Well, he tore a strip off me in front of the entire team about how his teams play hard but clean. I was pretty embarrassed to say the least. When we returned to our school, I got called into his office, where he told me that he understood that I didn’t intend to hit the guy after the whistle, but he needed someone to make an example of. He said that if I could take the heat in front of the whole team, then nobody else could say a word if he ever had to do it to them. “
“He taught me a lot,” Wright adds, “and I will always thank him for those lessons because I’ve used them in my own coaching life. He was also pretty cool. He had us playing Sam and Dave, Woodstock and James Brown music in our locker room. He has soul.”
As the team headed towards their Thanksgiving Day encounter against Boston Trade, they could look back at what had been a dominating season. Their record was 8-0, having scored an Eastern Mass high of 350 points behind the Frost led offense. Fullback, and eventual Boston Globe All-Scholastic Gary Alger led the team with 14 touchdowns, while halfback
Ed Gillen had contributed six. They had already claimed the Tri-Valley League championship.
“I think everyone in the entire town came out see the games,” says Wright. “We got a ton of support from the school also. On Fridays,
we would wear our jerseys to build added anticipation for the games. Lots of the teachers attended the games too, as I can recall getting some comments from them on Mondays at school.”
Beating Medway in Medway was a huge thrill for Frost. “They were undefeated and we were undefeated,” he recalled. “They were ranked number one in the state in defense while we were ranked number two. We were ranked number one in the state on offense and they were ranked number two. We won a great game 12-8. It was one of the largest crowds to ever watch a Tri-Valley League game with over 6000 people estimated to be at Legion Field.”
As the Boston Trade game approached, a more formidable obstacle loomed on the horizon. On Thanksgiving Day, a blizzard smashed the region, postponing most games. The Holliston-Boston Trade game was rescheduled for the following Monday at Bowditch Field in Framingham. But the slight delay failed to derail the Panther express.
Holliston easily won 38-0, securing the Class D championship and finishing 9-0. Gillen, Alger, Tom Caffrey, Richard Carpenter and Paul Rutigliano scored Panther touchdowns, with Frost and junior Tony Mattscheck delivering touchdown passes.
Wright remembers that “We played in pretty sloppy conditions at Bowditch Field. It was a little disappointing that we were unable to play our final game on our own field, but there was nothing we could do about that. Boston Trade didn’t have a very big team, but they were pretty feisty. “
“Our season was a huge success,” says Frost, noting that “going undefeated and becoming state champs was great. It was a lot of fun and we had great fan support from the students, teachers and our families.”
“I believe we were the first Panther team to go undefeated, so from a football perspective, we had a great season,” Wright continues. “But I’ll always remember the season for all the social activities that went along with fooball, like the pep rallies, parties at the Jarvi’s house, partying at the batcaves and the victory rides throughout the rest of the league, as well as for all my teammates and friends who made it such an unforgettable experience.”