After poring over the statistics from the 1981 Class AAA state championship football game between Roseburg and Lebanon, there was one that blew my mind.
Lebanon finished with minus-52 yards of total offense.
The Warriors had minus-55 yards rushing, three yards passing and one first down over 48 minutes.
“Roseburg just outplayed us,” Lebanon coach Randy Wegner admitted following a 22-0 loss to the Indians in cold and rainy conditions at Civic Stadium in Portland. “They just flew to the ball, we couldn’t get anything going. They are the finest defensive team we’ve faced.”
“All I could see was black,” Warriors quarterback Cory Carroll said. “They shut us down totally.”
The Indians (14-0) earned their first state football title under Thurman Bell, becoming the first Oregon prep team to win 14 games in a season.
How dominant were they? Well, Roseburg outscored its opponents 442-70, winning by an average of 26 points. The Tribe didn’t allow a single point in the second and third quarters that season.
“Saturday, there was no question to who No. 1 was,” wrote Greg Hanberg, who covered the Indians that season for The News-Review. “Roseburg fought off the monsoon weather conditions and played football. Lebanon, on the other hand, spent the day wallowing backwards against a fierce Indian defense.”
I was in college at this time. I had an opportunity to learn more about the ’81 Indians during a reunion dinner in Roseburg in 2016.
I got to speak with the likes of Kory Wilson, the quarterback on that team, wide receiver/free safety Dave Zech and fullback Rick Cram.
It was a senior-dominated club that entered the season with high expectations and fulfilled them. Twenty of 22 starting positions were occupied by seniors.
“There was such a loyalty to one another,” Wilson said during the reunion event. “From an early age we knew we had a group with talent. We played together from junior high on and were highly successful. We never lost a game at Fremont, and the only game Jo Lane lost was to us, so you had two junior highs that were really dominating the competition.
“By the time we got to our senior seasons, expectations were pretty high and it played out. There was tremendous loyalty ... you’re playing not just for yourself, but you have an obligation to all those who worked just as hard. That’s what made this team special.”
Zech, who intercepted three passes in the state title game, felt the Indians were a step ahead of their opponents when it came to preparation.
“We were a well-coached football team,” Zech said. “They had us prepared every single game, especially the state championship game. If you look at what transpired — minus-52 yards for Lebanon — it was incredible. There wasn’t a play we weren’t prepared for.”
Bell told me the most impressive trait about the ’81 team, aside from the talent, was its intelligence. The biggest starter was defensive tackle Joe Del Donno at 6-1, 235.
“I think the team GPA was 3.3,” Bell said. “That was a very bright bunch of kids and it was my job to not get in the way. They had a tremendous work ethic.”
With Jeff Loomis and Troy Ballard, Roseburg featured the best linebacking tandem in the state. Ballard, who was picked the team MVP, and Eddie Stratton, a defensive back, were first-team all-state selections. Loomis made the second team.
Ballard (Idaho) and Loomis (Washington State) both went on to play Division I football.
Wilson directed Roseburg’s triple-option offense, passing for 1,354 yards. Tailback Jamie Skoglund (1,420 yards rushing) and Cram (730 yards) were the top running threats. Wilson and Skoglund were second-team all-state selections.
Kicker Geir Guttuhaugen, an exchange student from Norway, converted seven field goals and 44 PAT kicks.
“We had a lot of strength, a lot of unity,” Cram said. “There was no doubt in my mind (we were going to be good). It was just a team that was unbelievable. It was hard to stop us.”
You can listen to a broadcast of the 1981 state final at 7 p.m. Friday on The Score, 1490 (AM) and 92.3 (FM). It’s the fourth of Classic RHS games that are being aired this fall in place of the Tribe’s 2020 season that has been moved to March because of the coronavirus pandemic.