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August 31, 2012

Among the momentous events of 1914, which include the outbreak of the First World War, the establishment of Mother’s Day as an official holiday in the United States, and the film debut of Charlie Chaplin, was the most remarkable season in the history of Antioch College football. As incongruous as the terms “Antioch College” and “football” may sound, the College known for not playing sports maintained intercollegiate athletics for more than 50 years. Outside of ten seasons where no games were scheduled, from 1889 to 1928, a football team took the field in the name of Antioch College, usually in a losing effort. A compilation of the known results says that Antioch football won 37, lost 66, and tied three. Six of those 37 wins, over 16% of the total number of victories in school history, were achieved in the magical year 1914, not so coincidentally the only season the Antioch College men’s football team finished over .500.

Antioch football team of 1914
The Antioch College football team of 1914. Front row, L to R: J. McKinley Wallace, Lowell Fess, Gilbert Funderburg. Middle row, L to R: Oscar Day, Howard Young, Elmer Taylor, Theodore Vandervort, Walter Riggle, Byron McCracken, Jay Garlough. Back row, L to R: Howard Nye, Owen Barr, Leighton Brown, Ora Wells, Sumner Fess.

The team featured what was at the time a novel approach to offense known as the forward pass. Though formally instituted in 1906 as a way to make this violent game safer, The New York Times reported that “the main efforts of the football reformers have been to ‘open up the game’—that is to provide for the natural elimination of the so-called mass plays and bring about a game in which speed and real skill shall supersede so far as possible mere brute strength and force of weight.” The forward pass leveled the playing field and allowed smaller players to compete in a game previously dominated by the bigger and the stronger. Still, it would be years before established programs and experienced coaches embraced the pass as an integral part of the game. Hence, in 1914, it was still a fairly uncommon practice among college football teams.

That year Antioch fielded a team without a coach, and the students instituted an offense that passed first, something that a conventionally trained coach may not have even thought of. The results were by anybody’s standards (but Antioch’s in particular) spectacular, and in 1914 the team piled up yards on offense as it never had before. Going into the final game, traditionally played on or around Thanksgiving Day, the team had won five and lost four, with only bitter rival Wittenberg College to go. No one gave Antioch College much of a chance to win the game (the odds were reported as 2:1 against them), but by then their well-developed passing system had become practically unstoppable.

Stacks moves into uncharted territory in this installment by reprinting a reprint, an account of the game first published by The Springfield Sun (merged with The Springfield News in 1928) and then picked up by the student-published monthly, The Antiochian. Note the voice of the article, clearly familiar with the Wittenberg team and less so with “the visitors” as Antioch is consistently described. So prolific was the Antioch College passing game that the writer is reminded of a play showing at the Fairbanks Theater at the time (the Fairbanks Building still stands at the corner of Fountain and Main Streets in Springfield), “The Passing of Hans Dippel,” condemned by proponents of Prohibition as anti-temperance propaganda backed by pro-German “liquor interests.” Students of the modern game will notice a rather quaint form of language such as “line bucking,” today known as short yardage offense, and “capturing” the ball on defense rather than intercepting it in current parlance.

Foot Ball: Antioch Brings to Close the Most Successful Season of Her Career With Victory Over Wittenberg
The original headline as it appeared in the Antiochian

Reprinted from The Antiochian, vol. 4, # 3, December 1914

FOOTBALL

Antioch Brings to Close the Most Successful Season of Her Career With Victory Over Wittenberg

By use of Forward Pass Antioch wins most spectacular game of season from Wittenberg, 49–32. Team works like a machine.

The lights of the city were burning and darkness had settled over the gridiron when the Wittenberg college warriors wended their way slowly off the field last evening, defeated and disgraced by the unheralded Antioch college team of Yellow Springs, by the score of 49 to 32.

Never before in the history of the two schools had the Lutheran team been forced to bow to defeat on the gridiron at the hands of the collegians from the nearby village. What made the disgrace all the keener was the fact that it was the crowning event of a football season and ideal weather had caused a record breaking crowd to turn out.

While “The Passing of Hans Dippel” was being shown at the Fairbanks theater yesterday afternoon, another interesting play, “The Passing of Lowell Fess” was presented on the gridiron in seven acts, each of which for a touchdown. The work of Fess and Funderburg was a puzzle that could not be solved by the Lutherans and they were easily the stars of the game.

Along the east side of the field stood a solid bank of automobiles and after it grew dark, many of the autoists lit the headlights of their machines, throwing a bright light across the field of play, making a weird and bad picture for the Lutherans as they watched the shades of night hiding from view a team that had been picked to bring honors to fair Wittenberg.

Outweighed at all points the visitors used the open game, as they ran against a stone wall defense in line plunging. It was this overhead article of play that was too much for the Lutherans and the passing of Fess was the greatest ever seen on the local gridiron. His passing averaged from 30 to 45 yards a clip and most of the throws went into the arms of Funderburg on the trail towards the Lutherans’ line. Fess could pass just as good on the run as standing still and it was this spectacular work that kept the visitors in the lead. One throw went wild and Ihrig coming forward with a rush carried the ball over Antioch’s line for the second touchdown.

The game meant the passing of Kimball, Ihrig and Deitrick, as all of them will graduate next June and they showed their best in the closing game. Ihrig was easily the star as his line plunging netted many yards. He made most of the touchdowns during the afternoon.

Along in the second half Wittenberg tried the forward pass with some miserable success. Most of them went wild or were uncompleted, while Antioch captured the ball a couple of occasions. Unable to solve the forward pass movement of the visitors cost the locals the game.

Antioch Starts Early

Antioch sprung the unexpected early in the game and made two touchdowns right off the reel. The visitors received the kick and tried a couple of forward passes, losing the ball. The Fess-Funderburg combination now added a 25 yard gain and the ball was on the Lutherans’ 15 yard line when another pass was captured by the locals on the 1 yard line. Fess made a fair catch and tried a drop kick from the 20 yard line, but Antioch got the ball on a fumble. A forward pass from Fess to Funderburg was good for a touchdown.

Antioch received the kick off, but were compelled to punt. Starting down the line, Ihrig carried the ball play after play for good gains until he placed it behind the goal line. Goehring missed goal.

Fess received the kick-off and by his snake tactics raced back to the center of the field, where the ball was when the quarter closed. Wittenberg got the ball as it was said Antioch threw it out of bounds. The Lutherans were forced to punt and Ihrig grabbed the forward pass and raced 45 yards for a touchdown. Goehring kicked goal.

Work Forward Pass Again

S. Fess now got into the game and the Fess brothers played a combination forward pass that added about 60 yards. Then the visitors added a first down on line bucks, but were penalized 5 yards. Fess tossed the pigskin to Wells for another touchdown, after chasing 12 yards.

It was now Wittenberg’s turn to make another touchdown, and Wilson made 6 yards, while Ihrig circled the end for over the line. Shortly afterward the half closed, with the score 21 to 19 in favor of the visitors.

After the rest, the Fess-Funderburg route was good for 50 yards and over the coveted line for another touchdown. The Lutherans then took turns and made a touchdown. It was then turnabout with the touchdown stuff until the close except that Antioch made a couple in a row toward the finish. Before the game was over, those along the side lines were unable to see the players it was so dark, but t’were better so. —(The Springfield Sun)

And this is the way a stranger has written up our great victory! We have only to say that we are proud of our “bunch” in that they conducted themselves in a clean and mannerly way and deserves all the credit that was given them. They fought like a machine and carried home the victory, The work of all the men stood out so prominently that it is hard to pick out any individual stars. The seniors especially scrapped like Trojans. Garlough at center got through the line on several occasions and then nabbed the quarter before he could pass the ball. It was said by all that it was the greatest game of his football career. And then Nye played his man like Nye had never played before. Moler is considered one of the best guards in the state, but Nye seemed to get him out of the way in every play. Enough has already been said about the work of Funderburg and Fess. We are sorry to lose them, but wish them the best of success.

The team as a whole cannot be praised too much for it was the teamwork displayed and not the work of any individual player that caused victory to perch on our banners. And thus ends the football season of 1914.

The lineup:

Antioch 49                              Wittenberg 32

Young…..……….R.E…………..Littleton, McNally

Day……..………..R.T…………..Grosscup

Nye…..………….R.G………….Moler

Garlough…………C……………Young

McCracken……L.G………….Wendt

Riggle…….………L.T…………..Deitrick

Wallace………...L.E…………..Goehring

L. Fess……………Q.B………….Empson, Dunmire, Bechtel

Wells, S.Fess...R.H.B……….Ihrig

Funderburg…..L.H.B………Mahr, Wilson

Brown…………..F.B………….Kimball

Time: 15-minute quarters

Referee, Prugh; umpire, Hyer; head linesman, Dressler.

Touchdowns: Funderburg, 6; Wells, 1; Ihrig, 4; Mahr, 1.

Goals from touchdown: L. Fess, 7; Goehring, 2.