The 1967-68 Ottawa Pirates, who under legendary head coach Bill Novak went a perfect 9-0, will join other great gridiron teams in the Ottawa High School Hall of Fame.
The 1967-68 Ottawa Pirates, who under legendary head coach Bill Novak went a perfect 9-0, will join other great gridiron teams in the Ottawa High School Hall of Fame. — Contributed

Arguably the greatest football coach of all time, Vince Lombardi, once said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while... you don't do things right once in a while... you do them right all the time. Winning is habit."

Those words would fit the Ottawa Pirates football teams under legendary coach Bill Novak, especially his 1967-68 club.

Coming off a perfect season the year before, those Pirates ran the table again, finishing a perfect 9-0, capturing a fourth-straight North Central Illinois Conference Northeast Division championship and extending the program's unbeaten streak to 28 games.

The 1967-68 gridiron Pirates — along with Arthur Hentrich (Class of 1912), Mark Furlong (1975), Kane Farabaugh (1995), Travis Hagenbuch (2003) and Michael Hermosillo (2013) — will be introduced at Kingman Gym in between the girls and boys varsity basketball games against Kaneland this Friday and inducted into the OTHS Hall of Fame in a ceremony Saturday night.

"That was a great time, a really terrific time," said then senior co-captain Randy Olson, the leading receiver (21 catches, 353 yards, six touchdowns) on the team who was named All-State, All-NCIC and for the past 13 years has served as a chaplain at a Level I Trama Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. "All of the seniors had the great experience of playing on an undefeated season the year before, and for me that was such a powerful experience in terms of the Ottawa football tradition.

"I think that carried over to our senior year. We were so committed and inspired to have an undefeated season as well to keep that pattern alive."

Ottawa opened the season with a 37-0 victory over South Shore of Chicago and a 20-0 blanking of Mendota at King Field. In Week 3, the Pirates traveled to take on talented rival La Salle-Peru at Howard Fellows Stadium, the first big step toward a perfect season and conference title.

The contest was deadlocked at 14-all at halftime, but Ottawa scored twice in the second half to earn a 26-14 triumph.

"Beating L-P was a pretty big deal, I think, and the game against Marquette was also special because they had given us a really good game the season before, and it's against guys you lived next door to," said Jim Zidow, a senior lineman who was named to the All-NCIC team and has resided in Las Vegas the past 25 years.

"We had beaten (L-P) pretty soundly the season before (48-0), and they always had a really good team. We had graduated a number of really good players as well, but we were able to beat (L-P) again by a couple touchdowns. It was a special game for sure."

The Pirates continued their strong play over the next three weeks with a 28-7 win at Dixon, a 20-6 victory over Streator on homecoming and a 60-25 drubbing of Kewanee. Ottawa then clinched their undisputed league championship with a 41-0 rout at Sterling.

"I will always remember the sense of 'team,' " said Olson. "It wasn't a simple task to go undefeated, but it was possible because we really supported of each other, and the coaches we had were 'super coaches.' They were able to take the talent we had and maximize it in so many creative ways, they were specialists in what they did."

Ottawa closed out the memorable season with a 34-6 triumph over Rochelle and a cherry-on-top, 53-0 victory over crosstown Marquette at King Field.

"I think part of the reason we were so good my senior year was that as juniors we were always getting to play almost half the games," said Zidow. "We had the experience, and I think having that was a big key to handling situations during the season or in big games.

"I also think our coaches did a good job of putting people where they thought they belonged, but also creating a team atmosphere. The focus was always on the team."

Ottawa's 1967-68 team members were: Kent Wagner, Ernie Mathews, Mike Barber, Brian Neilsen, Gary Mooney, Gary Grunstad, Mike Hoskinson, Dan DeBernardi, George Sutherland, Fletcher Wells, Kim Besse, Gary Schuett, Dave Cheli, Joel Cechowicz, Ron Sanders, Mike Bretag, Tom Jobst, Bob Foutch, Dave Varatto, Ken Herington, Randy Olson, Larry Carroll, Scott Willis, Gary Grenter, Jim Zidow, Al Dooley, Tim Jobst, George Yednock, Don Jakubek, Dale Claus, Bob Maierhofer, Larry Pike, Chuck Willet, John Wendt, Mike Lacke, Kent Freise, Randy Capitani, Ted Pumo and Colen Willis, with managers Bob Risberg and Larry Goodin, equipment manager Jake Clausen, head coach Bill Novak and assistant coaches Dean Riley, Ralph Nelson and Ron Slack.

"After defeating Marquette in our last game, I think we had a sense of accomplishment, we were closer and we had completed the mission," said Olson. "There wasn't playoffs or a chance at a state championship (the IHSA playoffs didn't begin until 1974), so to be undefeated, to extend the unbeaten streak, that was our mission and we had completed it as a team."