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November 20, 2013 at 11:01 PM

A look at Lake Washington’s historic unbeaten streak (1956-61)

A win this weekend in the 3A state quarterfinals for Bellevue gives them a 52-game unbeaten streak. That would break the long-standing record of 51 games set by Lake Washington from 1956-61.

We have a story for Thursday’s paper that takes a look back at that Lake Washington team. Thanks to former Times preps reporter Matt Peterson for sharing his research. Also thanks to former Times writer Craig Smith for getting me in contact with former Lake Washington players.

In that story, we talked to players that were on the Kangs team that lost to Mercer Island on Nov. 3, 1961. As noted in the paper, Lake Washington had three ties during that streak. The first tie came in 1956 against Bothell. The second was in 1959 to Mercer Island. And the third? The week before the loss, on Oct. 27, a 13-13 game against Bellevue.

That loss to Mercer Island was a 7-6 defeat. Paul Taylor, a senior lineman on the team, remembers the game starting off with a kickoff return for a touchdown. It was less than a minute into the game and Lake Washington already had the lead. You have to remember that the Kangs didn’t blow out opponents like today’s top teams do. During Lake Washington’s streak, it won by an average of 24.1-5.2. It shut out its opponent 21 times during that span.

Lake Washington didn’t have a good kicker. In fact, it may have been the only weak spot on that team. Taylor explained to me that back in those days, you could run the ball in for a point. There were no two-point conversations. The Kangs jumped offside on the first attempt and had to retry, which they failed.

Taylor remembers a back-and-forth game from there. Mercer Island finally scored late in the game by just pounding the ball.

“They had a big, strong team at that time,” Taylor said.

Dennis Green, a senior quarterback on the team, remembers Mercer Island had a big, bruising fullback that returned from injury for that game. Green also remembers Lake Washington’s halfback broke into the open field at one point, but dropped the ball and had to go back for it.

“I remember afterwards, we were really in a state of shock,” Green said. “We go into the locker room, we’re kind of moping around and Dean Griswold, who was our center, and he says, ‘I don’t know about you guys, I’m getting the heck out of here before [head coach Jim] Jolgen gets in here and has us run laps.’ We said, ‘That’s a good idea.’ We showered and got the hell out of there.”

In those days, there were usually dances after games. Taylor said there were probably a few tears at the dance that night. Meanwhile, those in the stands were just as shocked.

“Everybody was stunned,” said John Caskey, a 1962 Lake Washington graduate who was in attendance. “We had six straight years of never losing and you don’t realize how you become very, I guess you could say pompous or take it for granted. You go to a football game, you watch it, we win, you go to the dance or go to the drive-in afterwards. You take it for granted. The whole town was stunned. Definitely, if you were in the stands, you just sat there for awhile, didn’t move. Trying to. It wasn’t that easy.”

Jolgen had taken over as the head coach prior to the 1961 season. Bill McLaughlin was 61-11-4 in nine seasons, from 1952-1960. McLaughlin’s son graduated, though, and so he retired. Jolgen had been on staff under McLaughlin, but with a new staff in charge, the transition was a bit rough. Lake Washington did smooth things out, though, and would win 95 of 99 games in a 12-year stretch that culminated on the final day of the 1965 season.

( As a side note, one of my favorite stories about Jolgen is the time when he wasn’t happy with a lineman’s blocking technique in practice. So, without any protection, Jolgen got down and showed what he was looking for. The problem was, he was blocking a fully-padded player. After a short time of this, Jolgen’s ear was ripped halfway off and he had to go get stitches to put it back in place.)

The week after the loss, former player Mike Costello recalls, Lake Washington played at Bellevue on its old sand field.  The Kangs were playing a backup quarterback and were trailing. Costello caught a late desperation pass and took it in for a touchdown and Lake Washington avoided back-to-back losses.

“You’d think after the victory, we’d be pretty excited right?” Costello said. “We got on the bus after the Bellevue game and it was silent. It wasn’t like, ‘Hoo-rah, we won.’ Coach might have mumbled a couple things, but it wasn’t significant. It wasn’t like we were really high-fiving. That’s kind of the way it was. We were the ones that ended the streak. We weren’t really ready to strut our stuff.”

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