In the 2017 Greater Pittston Progress Thanksgiving issue, we took a look at the pre-merger West Wyoming vs. Wyoming Thanksgiving Day football series. The Cowboys and Redskins played each other 33 times on Thanksgiving from 1933 to 1966. The rivalry was as intense as any and the games were tight. Only six of the 33 games were decided by more than two touchdowns. There were four ties and five one-point games.
Last year, in a Duryea Thanksgiving football story, we learned the Wildcats played six different opponents between 1933 and 1961.
Today, let’s explore a Thanksgiving Day series between the West Pittston Rams and Forty Fort Flyers that started in 1922 and ended 70 years ago on Thanksgiving Day 1949.
Today, Forty Fort Borough — home to the Nathan Denison House, the Forty Fort Meetinghouse, a historic cemetery and the “lower school” of the internationally renowned Wyoming Seminary — has a reputation for Revolutionary War history and quality education. But in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, Forty Fort had a reputation for tough, hard-nosed high school football and fanatical, loyal fans.
Except for 1945, Forty Fort and West Pittston played 22 Thanksgiving Day games between 1928 and 1949. Forty Fort led the series 10-9-3. All three ties were 0-0.
The teams did not play in 1945 after the Forty Fort fans turned from fanatical to rabid following a 13-12 loss to Pittston on Friday, Oct. 12, under the lights in Forty Fort. Pittston stopped Forty Fort inside the 1-yard line on the game’s final play, but the fans didn’t see it that way. The three officials were set upon by a mob of Forty Fort fans and had to hide in the high school under police guard for an hour until state police arrived, who, along with Forty Fort cops, formed a “flying wedge” to escort the officials — Vic Baltz, Zip Bryant and Phil Morgan — through a gauntlet of incensed fans to waiting cars. Forty Fort principal Frank Early was punched in the head along the way. The PIAA suspended Forty Fort for the rest of the season. The remaining games were forfeited, including the Thanksgiving game.
West Pittston picked up Pittston Twp. for Turkey Day that year and won 6-0 on a touchdown by Ernie Pahl.
Most of the WP-FF Turkey Day games were hard hitting, defensive battles often in wet and cold weather at 10 a.m. In 16 of the 32 games, one or both teams did not score. In only three of the 32 games did the winning team score more than two touchdowns. In Forty Fort’s 13-0 win at Oak Field in Forty Fort in 1935, a punt return by Eddy was described this way in the Pittston Gazette: “he plowed and slid through ankle deep mud, skirted round several miniature lakes and crossed the goal line.”
From 1931 to 1934, a total of seven points were scored. Three were 0-0 ties. In the 1930 game, West Pittston stopped Forty Fort on the 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter to preserve a 7-0 win. The biggest upset was in 1943 when Forty Fort beat unbeaten and untied West Pittston 18-6. Dunlap scored two touchdowns for Forty Fort. Young scored on a 40-yard pick six for West Pittston.
Substitutions were rare in the 1920s and ’30s. Most coaches played the same 11 players throughout the game. So when West Pittston coach Emil Mesics substituted a player for a few plays and then sent the player back in with “information he wanted his team to have,” he “went into his bag of tricks,” according to the Gazette.
In the final game of the series 70 years ago today, it was a 14-0 Flyers win. The Flyers’ Doug Hurst ran for a Td and threw a Td pass to Turnberger. West Pittston did not play on Thanksgiving in 1950 and ’51. They scheduled Exeter for Turkey Day in 1952 and played a 14-game series against the Panthers until the Wyoming Area merger absorbed both schools.
It’s not clear why the West Pittston-Forty Fort Thanksgiving series ended, but there was a revival of sorts in 1966 when Wyoming Area, in its first year, played Forty Fort Area, a precursor to Wyoming Valley West. Wyoming Area won 21-13. Frank Delaney scored two Tds for WA and Bill Anzalone intercepted two passes.