By Vern Cahak
On the cold night of Nov. 12, 1976 the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association crowned the first Class AA state football playoff champion at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh.
The unlikely recipient of that trophy was a relatively small school from the north called Antigo after the Red Robins upset Racine Horlick, which at the time was ranked as the No. 1 team in the state. A 10-yard touchdown run by Randy Zoern in the first period stood up for a 6-0 victory, resulting in one of the most glorious and memorable events in Antigo’s proud football history.
Although both teams were undefeated with 10-0 records entering the contest, Horlick was the most talented of the contenders. The Rebels roster included several superstars and had a size advantage over Antigo. But Coach Gordon Schofield’s squad possessed a quality called defense – and what a swarming defense it was. The Robins restricted the mighty Rebels to 86 net yards.
Looking back at that defensive battle, Paul Wirth’s fumble recovery on the Horlick 27-yard line set up the only score of the game. The going got tough in the end zone but Zoern managed to just get over the goal line on third and 10. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Robins in a precarious position the rest of the game.
With Antigo clinging to its 6-0 lead midway through the fourth period the Rebels were in prime position to pull out a victory after recovering a Robin fumble on the AHS 41-yard line. But then the D came through. On fourth and one from the 32, tackle Dean Seis stopped a Rebel running back for no gain.
But the Robins weren’t out of the woods yet. Horlick regained position but again the Antigo defense came to the rescue. Terry Grams intercepted a pass with 1:41 remaining in the game and the celebrating was about to begin.
As the final seconds ticked off hundreds of Antigo fans stormed the field to congratulate their heroes. The 100-mile trip back to Antigo was highly enjoyable. As the caravan of vehicles and the team bus approached the city, emergency vehicles escorted the revelers with sirens wailing and red lights flashing.
The team and fans crowed into the Antigo gym where Coach Schofield praised his team for its tremendous performance.
While there were some individual standouts, the state championship was truly a team effort. Offensively the ’76 Red Robins were led by All-State quarterback Dan Thorpe, fullback Pat Bradley and halfbacks Grams and Bill Igl. The offensive line was comprised of ends John Medo and Joe Mattek, tackles Seis and Mark Kautza, guards John Payant and Tom Stanke and center Pete Solin.
The tough defensive unit included Thorpe, Seis, Wirth, Rolan Buck, Joe Miller, Dave Strobel and Tom Meyer.