1954: Cavemen Come of Age

Duane Maley, his voice hoarse, his body soaked from an impromptu shower by the coach’s shouting, celebrating players, stood amid the bedlam of the San Diego High sideline in Balboa Stadium.

Jubilant Cavemen hoist coach Duane Maley after San Diego's upset of Hoover.

Jubilant Cavemen hoist coach Duane Maley after San Diego’s upset of Hoover.

“My kids played the best football game I’ve ever seen,” said Maley after the gritty, 7-0 victory over the 7-0 Hoover Cardinals in the biggest regular-season game in the history of either school.

“It was strictly a team job,” Maley told Jerry Brucker of the Evening Tribune.  “All our guys played their best ball.  We beat Hoover up the gut (151 yards rushing), where they’re toughest.”

Only weeks before the headlines in San Diego newspapers seemed to say it all:

“Cavemen, At Long Last, Lose Favorite’s Role”

“Cave Fortunes At Low Ebb”

The latter referenced a stunning, 25-0 defeat in the second game of the season against a middling Pasadena squad the Hillers had annually pushed around when the schools were members of the Coast League.

The Bullpups, who had dropped their opener to Compton, 28-0, scored in every quarter and stunned the visitors from the Border City.

San Diego had won or shared City Prep League titles since the circuit was formed in 1950, but the 7-3 team of 1953 had graduated virtually everyone and that team had made an unexpectedly early departure from the playoffs, spanked by Anaheim, 21-7.

At 1-1 (the opener was a 7-2 victory over visiting Lynwood) Duane Maley’s team appeared ready to be had, especially after Hoover opened with a 34-20 win over Santa Monica, the reigning, two-time Southern California champion,  and followed with a 20-0 victory at San Bernardino.

Non-letterman Art Powell made all-Southern California.

Non-letterman Art Powell made all-Southern California.

The Cavers’ three lettermen were end-linebacker Deron Johnson, who had been promoted from the junior varsity in ’53, halfway through his sophomore season; fullback Joe Banks, and halfback Don Strickland.


Maley and his assistant coach, Birt Slater, talked about what needed to be done on the long bus ride back to San Diego after the loss at Pasadena.

They hadn‘t yet proved themselves but junior halfback Willie West and junior quarterback Pete Gumina were going to be stars, as would end Art Powell, Charlie’s younger brother.

Halfbacks James Grady and Leonard Kary, center Henry Wakefield, tackles Tom Collins, A.C. Mills, and  Dick Szakacs, guards Wayne Melvin and Don Hiler, fullback Eldridge Cooks, and others till now unknown, also would have to develop.

Maley and Slater spent the weekend looking at their team’s now uncertain future but with their eyes fixed on a destination game against Hoover, six weeks down the road.


Essentially routine victories of 39-19 over La Jolla and 32-0 over Lincoln got the Hillers back on track.  They moved to 4-1 with a 28-6 win over Point Loma that took on some added cachet considering the Pointers had scared Hoover before bowing 20-13.

San Diego didn’t put Kearny away until the fourth quarter of a 26-13 exercise but they climbed to 6-1 with a 41-19 victory over old punching bag Grossmont as Gumina passed for three touchdowns and had two others dropped.


San Diego had come a long way from 0-25, but oddsmakers probably would have made Hoover at least a seven or eight-point favorite in the rivals’ upcoming title showdown.

The Cavers were ready when Grady signaled their intentions by returning the opening kickoff to his 37-yard line, stopped  by John Adams, who made an ankle-top tackle.

James Grady is stopped on opening kickoff by Cardinals' John Adams.

James Grady is halted on opening kickoff by Cardinals’ John Adams.

From there it was a back-and-forth struggle that wasn’t decided until the Cavers’ Joe Banks nudged over for the game’s only touchdown with a little more than six minutes to play.


The  victory was challenged by a chorus of Hoover complaints about the game officials, but they were drowned out by the euphoria of  San Diego’s victory in this rare role as an underdog.

The Cavers weren’t finished.  They went to 8-1 the next week at home with a 26-13 triumph over the 7-2 Las Vegas Wildcats, Nevada’s top team, and then opened the playoffs at home with a 26-13 victory over Long Beach Wilson.

Wilson, beaten three times with a 5-3 record, led the Cavers 13-7 with seven minutes remaining in the game.  Touchdowns by West, Cooks, and Kary finally vaulted the Cavers past the pesky Bruins.

Leonard Kary breaks free from Wilkson defender Ray San Jose to score San Diego's final touchdown in 26-13 win.

Leonard Kary breaks free from Wilson’s Ray San Jose to score San Diego’s final touchdown in 26-13 win.

Next up would be a quarterfinal test at Santa Monica, which had rebounded from the loss to Hoover and was 7-2, seeking its third straight championship.

Trouble loomed.

Deron Johnson sustained a broken hand and Leonard Kary suffered a fractured ankle against Wilson and were done for the season. Art Powell came down with a broken toe on the last play of the game but would play.

Santa Monica held on to win 14-13 as Vikings supporters flooded the field  at the end of the game, more relieved than anything else.

Quarterback Lee Grosscup converted 10 of 15 passing attempts for 148 yards and a touchdown and kept the Cavers on their heels.  The Vikings won the yardage battle 344-273, but the visitors rushed for 238 yards and were in position to take the lead in the fourth quarter.

Trailing 14-13 (a fumbled snap nullified one point after touchdown attempt on a field wet from recent rain), the Cavers began from their 20-yard line, where Gumina pitched to Banks, who lateraled to Willie West.

West weaved 60 yards downfield to the Vikings’ 20, then lateraled to the trailing Gumina, who finally was downed on the 12.

Three plays later the Cavers were back on the 14.

Gumina passed to Alden Kimbrough, Deron Johnson’s replacement.  Kimbrough juggled the ball in the end zone, then saw the ball squirt from his hands.

Santa Monica rode out the clock.

Despite the loss, Maley noted that  no team of his “had started with so little and come so far.”

The Cavemen already were thinking ahead to 1955.


Art Powell and John Adams made the all-Southern California first team.  San Diego’s Johnson and Hoover tackle Troy Barbee were on the third team.  Another third-team choice was Compton Centennial’s Paul Lowe, soon to become one of the San Diego Chargers’ all-time running backs.


Halloween rascals were not out in force, according to County sheriffs, but don’t tell that to Escondido principal Guilford (Bud) Quade.

Inventive vandals hurled light bulbs filled with paint, damaging Quade’s automobile, and “grease bombs” were tossed at his home.

This Bud definitely wasn’t for the Cougars’ boss.


The San Diego Board of Education accepted the low bid on construction of an auditorium-gymnasium at the new Lincoln High after having delayed action when the bid turned out to be $12,409 in excess of the estimate.

Chamco Construction won the bid at $378,669, which reconciled at  $13.46 a square foot.  The same contractor won  a bid for a similar gymnasium-auditorium at Mission Bay for $10.10 per square foot.

Assistant superintendent George Geyer suggested accepting the Lincoln offer because it would take a year to redesign the building and call for new bids.


Escondido assistant coach Bob (Chick) Embrey, Bill Stewart, Larry Cope, and head coach Walt West (from left) inspect rubber ball.

Escondido assistant coach Bob (Chick) Embrey, Bill Stewart, Larry Cope, and head coach Walt West (from left) inspect rubber ball.

Oceanside won the inaugural Avocado League championship by virtue of a 0-0 tie with old rival Escondido on a field left sloppy from rains.

The teams had prepared for an off track by introducing an easier-to-grasp rubber football, similar to that used by teams from the Eastern part of the country when  bad weather hits in the late fall.

But as Union writer Dave Gallup pointed out, fumbles and intercepted balls were caused by a slick ball.

Escondido had 93 yards total offense, Oceanside 31.


Lincoln halfback Sam Goldstein was The San Diego Union City Prep League back of the week after he led the Hornets to their first ever victory with two touchdowns in a 19-0 shutout at Escondido.

Small problem. Actually, two or three.

As noted in a much smaller story the next day:

Goldstein didn’t scored on a 35-yard pass-run play with quarterback “Don” Seeley or on a 75-yard pass play later in the game.

Doyle Seeley was the quarterback in question, but it was Percy Campbell who threw the two touchdown passes.

And it was halfback Charlie Cox who scored the touchdowns.

The Union declared the mistaken identity on Goldstein-Cox was due to a switch in jersey numbers.

But what about Don, er, Doyle Seeley and Percy Campbell?  They didn’t change jersey numbers.


Grossmont’s 41-19 loss to San Diego actually qualified as a moral victory.

–Grossmont was winless in 11 games against Cavers’ varsity dating to 1922, the season which ushered in the series with a 40-7 San Diego victory.

–The teams didn’t meet again until 1943.  From that season through 1949, Grossmont was outscored 128-7 in five losses.

–Grossmont was on the punished end of a 67-0 score in 1953.

–Eight of San Diego’s 11 wins were by shutout.

–The 19 points scored against the Cavemen this season almost equaled the 21 Grossmont had scored in the previous 33 seasons.

Grossmont  also had a 1-4-1 all-time record against San Diego’s Reserves, B teams, or the split squad of the World War 1942 season.


First-year Compton Centennial was a surprising winner in the Southern California playoffs, defeating Glendale Hoover, 12-6.  Single-wing tailback Paul Lowe completed a 50-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game for the victory.

Santa Monica and Compton, teams which eliminated San Diego and Hoover, were themselves beaten in the semifinals.  The Cavers and Cardinals still ranked among the best of the 227 schools competing in the CIF Southern Section.

QUICK KICKS—Don Giddings was the veteran Point Loma coach…Don Giddings also was the name of the horse that ran out of the money at Jamaica Racetrack on Long Island, N.Y….Ray Blasingame, Point Loma’s 1953, all-league end, was an all-league fullback in 1954…21,000 persons were in Balboa Stadium as the East (La Jolla, Hoover, Kearny) topped the West (Lincoln, Point Loma, San Diego),  18-13, in the CPL carnival…6,000  jammed Spartan Stadium in Chula Vista for the Metropolitan League carnival, matching the Grossmont school district league schools against teams from the Sweetwater district…the Avocado League got into the carnival spirit two weeks into the season, when 4,000 filled Escondido’s new stadium to watch the inland schools, Escondido, Fallbrook, and Vista, defeat the Coastals, San Dieguito, Oceanside, and Coronado, 21-13…San Diego’s Art Powell wore jersey number 49, same as worn by brother Charlie five seasons before…Mar Vista, enrollment 410, bailed from the Metropolitan League and would go into the Avocado loop in 1955…the Split T formation favored by college powerhouse Oklahoma was en vogue…La Jolla finally gave up the single wing for the Split T under second-year coach Frank Smith….University of California coach Lynn (Pappy) Waldorf was guest of honor and speaker when the North Park Kiwanis honored the Hoover and  San Diego squads with a postseason dinner at the Imig Manor Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard….

California coach Pappy Waldorf broke bread with Hoover's John Adams (left) and San Diego's Deron Johnson.

California coach Pappy Waldorf broke bread with Hoover’s John Adams (left) and San Diego’s Deron Johnson.

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