A primary exemplar of Pennsylvania football for decades, the Berwick
Bulldogs have been named mythical national champion by USA Today an
astonishing three times - 1983, 1992 and 1995. Legendary coach
George Curry believes that still other Berwick teams were just as
good as these powerhouses. When the state playoffs began in 1988,
the Bulldogs, a perennial contender, proceeded to win six AAA state
championships in the next ten years, the first in 1988, another in
1992, then four in a row - 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997.
To focus on any one of these teams is difficult, but the 1983 team
may have been the first truly great Curry era Berwick squad.
The 1983 Bulldogs dominated a bruising eleven game schedule, then
cruised through the Eastern Conference A playoffs. Rival Wyoming
Valley West went under 27-0 in the semi-final. In the title game,
North Pocono was demolished 41-0 before a 10,000 plus crowd at
Berwick's own Crispin Field. The only close game in the regular
season came at Sunbury against Shikellamy where the Bulldogs got
past the Indians, 16-14.
Quarterback Joe "Bo" Orlando was the most outstanding player on a
team of many talents. In the North Pocono title game, he passed for
three touchdowns, two to end A. J. Thomas, ran for another, and
totalled 85 yards on the ground to become the game's leading rusher.
For the 1983 season, Orlando passed for more than 2,000 yards and
rushed for over 1,000. Even with his obvious offensive prowess,
Orlando was named to the All-State team as a defensive back. He went
on to become a star defender at West Virginia and in the NFL.
Speed was the hallmark of this spectacular team. After the North
Pocono game, Coach Curry said, "Bo is not all Berwick has. You stop
him - you don't stop Berwick. We have too many weapons. Also, that
defense was just super." Orlando's backfield helpers included speedy
halfback Mike Dalberto and big fullback Andy Mills, also a first
team All-State defensive end.
Center Lou DiPippa anchored the quick and powerful offensive line.
He was also a top linebacker and was honored for that work on the
third All-State team.
The next year, Joe Favata, a star linebacker on the 1983 club, made
the first All State team, while 1983 nose guard Scott Ratamess was
recognized on the second team.
A few years later, in 1988, the Bulldogs made their mark in the
first state playoffs when a supposedly invincible Aliquippa team led
by huge Sean Gilbert was humbled 13-0 by Coach Curry's inspired
squad. Quarterback Jake Kelchner, later of West Virginia fame,
undersized lineman Chris DiPippa, and split end and D-back Lance
Evina each were named to the All-State first team.
1992 brought the next super team led by all-everything quarterback
Ron Powlus. Berwick trampled western hopeful Blackhawk 33-6 in the
state final. Powlus, after Berwick trailed for the first time that
season, threw four touchdown passes, including three to Chris
Orlando in the first half.
Powlus was not only the All-State quarterback and PA Player of the
Year but also Parade Magazine National Prep Player of the Year as
well. He went on to set many passing records at Notre Dame.
Chris Orlando maintained the family "tradition" by being named
All-State defensive back while 6-2, 205 pound, Jason Soboleski won
similar first team honors at linebacker.
In 1994, Berwick reached the AAA throne again with another great
team, hammering Sharon, 27-7, in the title game. Curry believes the
1994 outfit was his most physical team with the best offensive line.
Each member could bench press over 400 pounds. Major victories were
won over two strong opponents, Allentown Central Catholic, 29-18 at
Lehigh and perennial Distrct Three hopeful Manheim Central, 37-30 at
Josh George, at 6-2, 247, and Vinnie Kishbaugh, 6-1, 300, led the
O-line with first and second team All-State honors. Dave Robbins, a
third team All-Stater, was the junior QB.
In the 1995 national championship season, Berwick blasted Sharon
again for the state title, this time by 43-6. Robbins was now the
All-State quarterback and Brian Remley, another first team All-Stater,
was his featured end. Dave Robbins is now a Curry assistant.
Bull-like Mannie Henrie in the offensive line and Jeremy Kishbaugh
at defensive tackle received second team recognition. Talented Bryan
Smith, a 155 pound junior, was honored on the second team.
This was Curry's best defense. However, the 1995 Bulldogs had to
overcome a 17-0 Manheim Central lead to win 18-17 at Wilkes-Barre to
win the Eastern title.
In 1996 and 1997, Berwick won two more AAA titles - in the 1996
finals beating Blackhawk again, 34-13, and edging Pittsburgh Perry,
with current Pitt star, Rod Rutherford, the opposing quarterback,
17-14, in 1997. Both years, the Bulldogs overcame Strath Haven, a
rising power from District One, winning by 29-2 in 1996.
Henrie at 5-11, 250, was advanced to the 1996 All-State first team.
Ryan Mason, 6-2, 240, whom Curry calls "my best-ever defensive
lineman" was also a first-teamer. Barney Bowman made the second team
DL and now senior Bryan Smith was a third team running back.
1997 stars included stellar kick-returner Chris Banyas, an All-State
first team choice, as well as two named to the second team - huge
Gus Felder, later a star offensive tackle at Penn State, and
linebacker Jeremiah Dyer.
In those 1996 and 1997 seasons, Berwick faced five future College
Division I-A quarterbacks including Dave Ragone of Cleveland St.
Ignatius; Byron Leftwich of Washington, D. C.'s H. D. Woodson; Matt
Senneca of Allentown Central Catholic; Matt Smoker of Manheim
Central; and Rod Rutherford of Pittsburgh Perry. Four were defeated.
Only Ragone was able to master the Bulldogs.
Late in the 1996 game with Woodson, D-back Tom Lockard intercepted a
Leftwich pass, returned it for a touchdown, and Berwick won 26-22.
In 1998, St. Ignatius, the perennial Ohio power, came to Crispin
Field again. Berwick gained an astounding 511 yards and won 30-28.
Coach George Curry, the builder of these great teams and sustainer
of the overpowering Berwick dynasty, is a native of Larksville,
another anthracite community outside Wilkes-Barre. He was a star
lineman at Temple, graduating in 1966. After a short stint at
Lake-Lehman, he began his work as head man for the Bulldogs in 1971.
This is his 33rd year at Berwick. His overall coaching record is 365
wins, 76 losses and five tied games. He is the seventh winningest
coach in U. S. scholastic history and is No. 1 all-time in
Pennsylvania. He has coached eleven teams that were undefeated and
untied in the regular season. Four of his six state champions had
perfect records. He has received many Coach-of-the-Year honors.
Curry brings an unmatched intensity and understanding of the game to
The Bulldogs' 1983 offensive starters were:
E 84 Tony DEWEESE 6-2 195
T 75 Kevin COMSTOCK 6-4 245
G 73 Ron MILLER 5-9 220
C 50 Lou DIPIPPA 6-0 205
G 78 Scott RATAMESS 6-0 225
T 76 Jody HUTCHINGS 6-4 255
E 88 A. J. THOMAS 5-9 165
Q 5 Joe ORLANDO 5-10 175
H 33 Mike DALBERTO 5-9 175
H 81 Scott EVERETT 6-2 175
F 31 Andy MILLS 6-1 213
Manning the defense for that great team were:
E 89 Jamie SLUSSER 6-3 220
T 65 Dennis TUZA 6-1 205
G 78 Scott RATAMESS 6-0 225
T 73 Ron MILLER 5-9 220
E 31 Andy MILLS 6-1 213
LB 50 Lou DIPIPPA 6-0 205
LB 51 Joe FAVATA 6-1 190
CB 22 Jack HUSAK 6-1 180
CB 23 Scott HIPPENSTEEL 5-9 175
S 33 Mike DALBERTO 5-9 175
S 5 Joe ORLANDO 5-10 175
Other key players on this great team included 25 Dave REAGAN and 44
The 1983 national championship record:
25 HARRISBURG 0
34 SELINSGROVE 0
28 HAZLETON 17
41 DANVILLE 0
25 MT. CARMEL 0
28 WILLIAMSPORT 0
47 POTTSVILLE 0
16 SHIKELLAMY 14
58 MILTON 0
47 TAMAQUA 0
48 SHAMOKIN 0
EASTERN CONFERENCE A PLAYOFFS
27 WYOMING VALLEY WEST 0
41 NORTH POCONO 0
Through these wonderful years, many Berwick players have gone on
from the scholastic ranks to play important roles in many college
programs, at all levels - Divisions I-A, I-AA, II and III.
The contribution to this article by Jim Doyle, who has been the
Berwick Bulldogs play-by-play broadcaster at station WFYY for more
than 30 years, is very much appreciated.