CINCINNATI – The first time the Cincinnati area won three Ohio state football titles in one season was 30 years ago.
But, for coaches, players and fans of those three schools – Fairfield, Purcell Marian and Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, aka CAPE – those memories are a time capsule of their high school sports experience.
John Paul Case heard someone bring up Purcell Marian’s 1986 state title while attending the Guns N’ Roses concert this summer at Paul Brown Stadium.
For 87-year-old Ben Hubbard, moments of the ’86 Fairfield state championship team pop into his mind at random occasions while he starts his 57th year of coaching high school football.
And for former NFL player Vinnie Clark, who won state titles with CAPE in ’85 and ’86, the now-defunct school was admittedly the best thing that ever happened to him.
Since 1972, when the state playoffs started, there have only been two seasons in which three Cincinnati-area football teams won Ohio state championships in the same year.
The first occurred in ‘86 when Fairfield (Division I), Purcell Marian (Division II) and CAPE (Division III) won their titles on the rough-and-tumble artificial turf at Ohio Stadium in late November.
The second occurrence didn’t happen until 2013, when Moeller (Division I), Loveland (Division II) and Clinton-Massie (Division IV) won the state titles in Stark County.
Fairfield, Purcell Marian and CAPE were connected in ’86 when they supported one another during and after the state finals in Columbus.
But the teams were connected on the field, too. Purcell Marian defeated Fairfield in double-overtime for the Indians’ only loss that season. The Cavaliers beat CAPE in a preseason scrimmage.
Cincinnati was on the grandest stage in the state that November.
“It’s so hard to win a state title,” said former CAPE coach Steve Sheehan, a 1963 Purcell graduate. “To have three from the same region, that’s outstanding.”
Scott Hormann remembers posing for photos and signing autographs that fall of 1986. His father compiled a scrapbook that is second to none.
Everywhere the senior quarterback and his teammates went around Fairfield, the community showed up. It seemed everyone in town went to Columbus for the Division I state final Nov. 30, 1986.
The game is still discussed at Bob Evans and Skyline Chili in Fairfield nearly 30 years later.
“It was something,” said Hormann, a high school baseball coach in Colorado. “It’s hard to describe how ridiculously awesome it was for the city of Fairfield.”
Several football players grew up having played baseball and basketball together. Of the 130 players on the state championship roster, 93 played three sports, according to Hubbard. Some played a fourth sport.
The baseball team won the Class AAA (large school) state title in ’85.
That chemistry from the ’86 class started in seventh grade. The players knew they were on a special journey.
“There was an air of confidence as you went up in grade knowing we’re good,” said cornerback Rodney Hubbard, who is not related to Ben.
The ’85 football team lost to Moeller in the first round of the playoffs, but finished with a 9-3 record to set the tone for ’86.
The junior varsity team went undefeated in ’85.
“It was the core of the ’86 state championship team,” said offensive coordinator Bill Stewart, who is now the Lebanon High School athletic director. “Most games were a rout as I recall.”
Fairfield’s only blemish in ’86 was the double-overtime non-conference loss to Purcell Marian when Hormann threw a pick-six near the midway point of the season. That moment still bothers him even though the Indians were crowned state champions.
“Losing wasn’t an option for us,” Hormann said.
Even with Fairfield’s offensive firepower, the defense proved statistically dominant. The offense averaged 14.7 points and the defense allowed less than a touchdown.
Fairfield defeated Milford 21-6 in the first week of the playoffs. Fairfield Stadium was so muddy a helicopter hovered the stadium and tried to dry off the field.
Fairfield then defeated Dayton Dunbar 19-9 the next week on frozen turf that helped neutralize the Wolverines’ speed.
The Indians needed overtime to defeat Worthington 17-14 in the state semifinal at Welcome Stadium. Nick Toon made a 23-yard field goal to lift the Indians to Columbus.
The state final proved to be another nail-biter amid a memorable atmosphere.
“Walking into Ohio Stadium the memories are just etched into your mind,” Ben Hubbard said.
Hubbard walked out onto the Ohio Stadium field to collect his thoughts. The next time he walked onto the field the breathtaking view of the Fairfield crowd in red and white overwhelmed him unexpectedly.
“It was almost unbelievable,” Hubbard said.
Rodney Hubbard said it felt like 25,000-30,000 people were there Nov. 30 at “The Horseshoe.”
The Ohio High School Athletic Association records say 8,555, but the point is well taken about the magnitude.
“I run into former players all the time,” Ben Hubbard said “It seems like the whole world was at that game.”
John Pfeifer, a standout receiver, caught a short touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal from Hormann in the fourth quarter to give the Indians a 21-20 win over Lakewood St. Edward.
The Indians captured the state championship and finished with a 13-1 record.
“It was the most memorable day of my life — I know that,” Ben Hubbard said.
Fans lined the highway back from Columbus. Police waited for the team bus on Ohio 4. It is still Fairfield’s only state football title.
Jay Koch recently sifted through some boxes and found old newspaper clippings from the Cavaliers’ 1986 state title.
It brought back a lot of memories from that special squad. Asked how much he and his teammates discuss a team from 30 years ago, Koch enjoyed the opportunity to address that.
“I think it would be a good question for our wives,” said Koch, a former Ohio State tight end and linebacker.
Purcell had it all.
Speed. Power. Quick defensive linemen who shot gaps. Corners who were blanket defenders.
“Each person, to a man, held each other accountable,” said Koch, who lives in Lebanon and works for TriHealth.
Former Purcell Marian Athletic Director Tom Stickley was the defensive coordinator for the Cavaliers that season.
Purcell went undefeated (14-0) after it defeated Willoughby South 26-7 in the Division II state final Nov. 29, 1986 at Ohio Stadium.
“We had an amazing bunch of athletes who were really good,” Stickley said.
Just like Fairfield, the Purcell defense stood out. The Cavaliers allowed just 46 points in 10 games in the regular season.
“It was just one of those years where everything came together,” said starting junior nose guard Cliff Pope, who is an Elder assistant coach.
The double-overtime win over Fairfield was the significant win early in the season.
“That sense of invincibility set in,” Koch said. “We knew we could go all the way.”
Purcell then defeated Moeller at Norwood Stadium in weeks 6 or 7. The Cavaliers defeated Alter 13-7 the following week.
As freshmen, the class went 7-0. It ended their high school careers undefeated.
Case, the team’s quarterback, said the team bonded despite different backgrounds from around the city.
“If our defense doesn’t play the way it did, we don’t win state,” Case said.
Head Coach Herb Woeste graduated eight years after Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach graced the halls of Purcell.
Woeste was no-nonsense. He preached mental and physical toughness. That was evident in practices on the hard surface of Eden Park, where the team used cones and barrels as markers and walked the field once every two weeks checking for broken glass.
“You know the defense wins championships cliché,” Woeste said. “We had an outstanding defense not only in points allowed, but the turnovers and yards allowed. Our offense took advantage of the field position our defense gave us.”
The Cavaliers defeated Willoughby South 26-7 in the Division II state final Nov. 29 at Ohio Stadium.
Several of those Purcell players got together this past school year for a school hall of fame induction and a reunion of sorts.
“It was an unbelievable journey,” Woeste said. “I’ve never had such a close team. These kids really cared about each other.”
Carlos Snow meets up with his former teammates twice a month to catch up and remember the good times at CAPE.
The grades 7-12 school was a Cincinnati Public Schools academy on Winton Road until it closed in 1994 as part of a cost-saving measure.
But the legacy of CAPE – a program that gained national media attention in the 1980s – continues today.
There are 15-20 former players who meet up each month. They reminisce about the two state titles in ’85 and ’86.
“Our friendship will last until we take our last breath,” said Snow, who lives in Covington and works for Sinkro Inks.
Snow is one of Greater Cincinnati’s all-time greatest football players. He rushed for 7,761 yards in his career – third-most all-time in Ohio.
With his 2,999 career rushing yards at Ohio State, Snow is still one of the top rushers in Buckeyes’ history.
But, the College Hill native credits CAPE for much of his success on the football field.
After having defeated Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 27-0 in the Division IV state final in ’85, CAPE was eager for a repeat.
“We had so much confidence in each other,” said Snow, who is finishing his degree at UC. “We prepared that first year like none other.”
CAPE’s only loss was to Ironton in the ’86 regular season, but the team knew Columbus was where its path would lead.
CAPE defeated Wheelersburg 37-8 in the regional semifinal then defeated Forest Park 34-14 in the regional final.
The state semifinal wasn’t much closer with a 21-8 win over Fostoria. Snow ran for three touchdowns, including a 95-yard score in the first quarter.
The state final Nov. 28 against Chagrin Falls Kenston proved much closer.
Vinnie Clark, another College Hill native who later played at Ohio State before his NFL career, caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Darnell Lee to put CAPE ahead 7-0 in the first half.
CAPE was not known for its special teams in the mid-1980s and head coach Steve Sheehan elected for the point-after attempt which Tim McFadden converted.
The extra point proved critical. And so was the defense. Especially on a day when Snow rolled his ankle and was held in check.
CAPE forced five turnovers, including four interceptions and a fumble recovery. Clark had three interceptions.
Although the corner had a seven-year NFL career, he likes to think back on that day at Ohio Stadium.
“It was good,” Clark said. “It was fun. It was good time for the school and for the city of Cincinnati.”
Kenston scored a touchdown with four or five minutes left in the fourth quarter but CAPE blocked it which proved to be the difference in the game.
Snow said he wouldn’t trade his experience at CAPE for anything. Clark won’t forget the team’s competitiveness and familial spirit.
“CAPE was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Clark said.
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