OHIO VALLEY’S TOP 10 FOOTBALL GAMES: 1985 — Brooke, Parkersburg: The start of the Bruins’ dynasty
WELLSBURG — They say you never forget your first. Paul “Bud” Billiard certainly hasn’t.
The long-time Brooke High School head football coach vividly remembers the No. 8 ranked Bruins first Class AAA state championship like it was yesterday. It came in 1985 in the form of a 7-0 win over third-ranked Parkersburg on a cold December Saturday night at Charleston’s Laidley Field.
“You don’t forget the first one because that’s the one you are looking for,” he recalled. “It was a night game and we wanted to make sure we used the day right and kept the kids occupied. We drove down there that morning on buses. We stopped and got something to eat so that the kids would have time to digest their food. Then we got to our motel and addressed the kids in their rooms before proceeding to the stadium.
“We just made it a routine day for the kids. Nothing fancy. Nothing flashy,” he added.
Midway through the second quarter of a scoreless battle, Brooke quarterback Jeff Sweitzer rolled right and lofted the ball down the field. Wide receiver Steve Provenzano, who started the season as the ‘volunteer’ quarterback, ran under the spiraling ball down the sidelines for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Holger Shusser, a foreign exchange student from Germany, booted the extra point.
“That game was a slugfest,” Billiard recalled. “Neither team threw the ball much.”
Brooke almost didn’t have a chance at the winning touchdown toss.
On the play prior to the TD pass, Sweitzer found tailback John Cox on a swing pass. After gaining 12 yards, Cox fumbled but Duane Gerrard was there to recover for the Bruins. The touchdown drive went 76 yards on 14 plays.
With the most cherished victory in program history, Brooke had avenged a season-opening 14-6 setback to the Big Reds. However, that loss proved to be beneficial to the Bruins.
“Pro 10 Fade,” Billiard said of the play call. “Ironically, that allowed us to come full circle. If you go back to the first game of the year, we played at Parkersburg and got beat. We didn’t have a team at that point. We had some kids out and we didn’t have a solid quarterback. Stevie volunteered to be the quarterback because we were still searching for one.
“At halftime, (assistant) coach Paul Markos came over and said, ‘Let’s put (Jeff) Sweitzer in (at quarterback). We go out and received the second half kickoff. We had the ball somewhere around our own 30-yard line and we run the option. Sweitzer kept the ball and ran all the way. We may have lost the game, but we found a team out of it.
“From Provenzano to Sweitzer in Game 1 and, 13 games later, it’s Sweitzer to Provenzano for a state championship. It was kind of poetic justice.
Billiard said his kids took the opening-game loss to heart, and vowed to get even.
“I remember walking off the field after the first Parkersburg game, Georgie Kidwell came up to me, hugged me and said, ‘Coach, there’s a lot of good things that are gonna happen this year. I can feel it.”
“It was like they had a plan to play Parkersburg again.”
In the championship game, Billiard noted that Sweitzer had a punt return for a touchdown called back and the Bruins also had several big plays negated by penalties.
With a little less than two minutes remaining, Brooke tried to put the game away with Shusser attempting a field goal.
“I tell you what. From where I was standing, it looked pretty good, but the guy under the upright said it went to the left. You can’t overrule those guys,” he said.
“It was a bitter-fought game. Both teams played extremely hard. It was good running, hard tackling and everything you would want in a good football game was there.”
The game proved to be a springboard to the future for Brooke football.
Former Houston Oilers head coach “Bum Phillips used to say his team kept knocking on the door, knocking on the door, knocking on the door. One of these days we’re going to kick that door in. That’s the night we kicked the door in and I told our people I didn’t care what the score was or what our record was, we got it done. We learned how to get it done and a lot of times after you find success, you can’t keep it, by my goodness that win led us onto a great string of years. We ended up being in the (state) finals seven times and winning three of those.
“It wasn’t too bad of a time to be in Green and Gold.”
Brooke went on to capture state titles in 1987 and 1990. It made the playoffs 15 times in Billiard’s tenure.
That game served as the stepping stone for Sweitzer’s career. He went on to have a fine career at Akron University and was recently inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame.
“The best. Unquestionably the best I’ve ever coach,” Billiard said without hesitation when asked where Sweitzer ranked on his list of top players in Brooke history. “He had a talent that was hard to explain. Things that you had to drive into others came naturally to him. When you wanted to teach a drill, he may have never saw it before, but he would do it to the letter.”