With the coronavirus pandemic bumping the 2020 Oregon high school football season to spring of ’21, we’ve had opportunities to go back in history and look at some state championship years involving Douglas County teams.
The 1961 Roseburg Indians, guided by Roy Thompson, brought the city its first state football title.
Top-ranked Roseburg completed a perfect 12-0 season with a 25-0 whipping of No. 2 Beaverton in the Class A-1 final, played before 11,734 in freezing weather at Portland’s Multnomah Stadium (now Providence Park, home of the Portland Timbers soccer team).
The Indians were a defensive juggernaut that season, outscoring their opponents 247-26 and posting eight shutouts. They were not scored on during the final 21 quarters of the season, keeping their three playoff opponents out of the end zone.
Roseburg defeated No. 6 Grants Pass 21-0 in the quarterfinals and eliminated Jesuit 19-0 in the semifinals.
“That season and the following season (1962) was the most fun I ever had playing football,” said Doug John, a tackle/defensive tackle on the state championship team who went on to play at Oregon State University.
“What made it special was Roy Thompson. He was a special coach, he made the whole team his family. Everybody liked him and he was a father figure to all of us.”
John, 75, retired in 2017 after owning Roseburg Disposal for over 40 years.
Thompson, who compiled a 44-15-1 record in six years as the Tribe’s head coach (1958-63), was assisted that season by Joe Schaffeld, Stew Robertson and Pete Hopkins.
“Roy had some way of communicating with us,” John said. “He didn’t do a lot of yelling. If he had something to say, he didn’t scream in your face.”
“Aside from my father, I idolized Roy Thompson more than any other male in my life,” said Paul Brothers, an all-state quarterback and starting safety on the 1961 team. “He never let us get away with nothing.”
Thompson also coached at Astoria (1952-57), Sprague (1975-78) and McKay (1982-85), compiling a career record of 102-82-1.
Thompson died on Feb. 20, 1993, in Walla Walla, Washington, following a bout with cancer. He was 66.
The Indians entered the 1961 season with high expectations after finishing 7-2 the previous year.
“There was a tight family relationship in the whole team,” Kenny King, a linebacker on the title team, told The News-Review in 1986. King passed away on Sept. 2, 2018, at 74.
Thompson said, “They were talented. Basically, every position was covered. It was a group of kids who had played together several years, and knew each other and the system. I’d have to say that was one of the better high school football teams around ... it was a good run of kids.”
Ray Palm was an an all-state and All-American wide receiver on the 1961 team.
“We set it (state championship) as a goal, clear back when we were in junior high,” Palm said in 1986. “It wasn’t something that just happened, we thought we could do it and we did. It’s still one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had.”
“We knew we could be a good team,” John said. “Everybody had a good attitude and a lot of us went both ways.”
Roseburg went 6-0 in District 5 (Midwestern League) play. Its closest contest came in the league opener, a 7-6 victory over Springfield.
“For a high school team, we were as mentally tough as anyone could be,” Brothers said. “We were really good on special teams, the defense was outstanding and everybody was either quick or fast.”
“The kids had good work habits and were tough,” said Schaffeld, who went on to become an assistant coach at the University of Oregon. “They played with a lot of pride and enthusiasm. There were some close and hard-fought games, but our kids found ways to win them.”
Roseburg entered the state championship game with confidence. Behind Brothers, fullback Mike Flury, Palm and the defense, the Indians handled Beaverton.
Brothers passed for three touchdowns, Flury ran for a game-high 138 yards on 20 carries and Palm caught six passes for 49 yards and two scores. Down lineman Tom Hobbs was among the standouts on defense.
“The oddsmakers said Beaverton was favored, but we just went out and kicked ass,” John said. “We had a job to do and went out and did it. We were in control after the first kickoff.”
“We (defense) told ourselves nobody would score,” King said.
Palm was Roseburg’s top receiver on the season with 36 catches and the leading scorer with 54 points. Flury, an all-state selection, was the top rusher with 875 yards and Brothers passed for 699 yards and led the club with five interceptions on defense. King led in tackles with 159.
“Not an empty seat at (Finlay Field),” John said. “There were people lined up around the end zone. You couldn’t ask for better support.”
Palm and Flury, both seniors, went on to play at UO. Brothers and John, who graduated from RHS in 1963, received All-American honors as seniors before playing for the Beavers.
Roseburg finished 8-2 in 1962, winning the league title and losing to eventual state champion Medford 14-7 in the quarterfinals.