50 years ago the Montclair State College Indians, now known as the Montclair State University Redhawks, became the fist New Jersey college football team to win a postseason bowl game when they defeated Hampden-Sydney in exciting fashion at the Knute Rockne Bowl. In this bite-sized podcast, we remember the historic 1970 season and catch up with a few players and coaches from that team to discuss memories and failed plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Enjoy!
Written and Produced by: Jael Mino and Evan Diaz
Narrated by: Evan Diaz
Edited by: Jael Mino
A 1970 Football Story
By Dominick Caccavella
It’s been 50 years since Montclair State defeated Hampton-Sydney 7-6 to win the Knute Rockne Bowl. And despite the passing of decades and several great teams that have represented Montclair State, the 1970 squad stands alone.
The team’s victory in the Knute Rockne Bowl capped off a 9-1 season, yet their record wasn’t the only thing that set them apart. Despite not being one of the biggest or fastest teams, Montclair State had the best defense in Division II. The unit surrendered less than 50 points in their nine regular season games and shut down several high-powered offenses throughout the season. On the other side of the ball, their offense was the perfect sidekick relying on a strong run game and quick passing attack.
“The guys wouldn’t acknowledge they weren’t as big or as fast or as strong,” defensive coach Don MacKay said. “They just never took no for an answer.”
This “never say no” attitude was instilled by a strong coaching staff that preached playing smart and disciplined football. Head coach Clarence Anderson and Tim Sullivan ran the offense while Tom Testa and Don Mackay coached the defense. Mackay, the only coach still living, came into coaching straight from the Marines and brought his tough military mindset with him that made his team believe they could accomplish anything they put their minds to. Considering most coaching staffs today carry up to a dozen coaches it’s remarkable to think four men were able to lead a successful team.
“They were guys you wanted to play for because you never wanted to let them down,” said safety Alex Kaplanovich.
Montclair’s first major test came in just their second game of the season when Delaware State and their star running back Steve Davis made the trip to Montclair. Davis was one of the leading rushers in all of Division II that year and would eventually go on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers the following season. The Montclair defense rose to the challenge and virtually shut down Davis. The play of the game was made by linebacker Bobby Jensen who tackled Davis on a 4th and goal play from the 1-yard line to preserve the lead. Davis finished the game with just 37 yards on 17 carries in a 10-7 Montclair State victory.
“The stop that Bobby Jensen made I thought was the play of the season,” Mackay said. “Without that play we probably would’ve lost the game and maybe not have gotten the bowl invitation.”
Montclair dominated throughout most of the regular season outscoring their opponent 247- 45 with four shutouts on their way to an NJAC title. The team was rewarded with an invitation to the Knute Rockne Bowl which served as college football’s Division II east regional championship. Their opponent was the Hampton-Sydney Tigers, a team with the number one offense in the country led by the nation’s top rusher Tracy Powers. And although the game happened 50 years ago, those who were on the field inside the Atlantic City Convention Hall remember the game as if it were yesterday.
Once again, Montclair’s defense led the way and held Hampton Sydney scoreless for three quarters. Montclair State defensive back John Brunelli caught more passes from the Tigers quarterback than most of their receivers. He recorded three interceptions pushing his season total to a nine on the season, a school record. In the 4th quarter Hampton-Sydney finally found their way to the endzone to cut the score to 7-6. Instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game, the Tigers decided to go for the win and lined up for a two-point conversion. Immediately pressured by defensive end Mike VanZile the Tigers quarterback rolled out to the right and threw a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted in the end zone by safety Alex Kaplanovich. The play would prove to be the pivotal moment in Montclair’s 7-6 victory.
“It was a challenge to us, and it took a complete team effort from our entire defense to shut them down,” said Kaplanovich. “I was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and come down with the ball.”
Winning the Knute Rockne Bowl was the perfect ending to an incredible season. Yet what made this team so special was not just the dominant defense or winning the east regional championship, but the special bond shared between the players and coaches that holds strong 50 years later.
“Whenever the guys from that team get together the word love is used a lot,” Jensen said. “My biggest takeaway from that year was not being champions, but just being a part of that team.”
Despite not being the most talented group, the camaraderie between the players and coaches paired with their tough and disciplined mindset gave them the confidence to beat every team they played.
“When we went out on that field we never expected to lo