In 1925, Ellwood City, a steel center in southern Lawrence County,
produced a football team for the ages. Giant county rival New Castle
dominated the scholastic game for most of the 20th century in that
neighborhood of the WPIAL - but 1925 belonged to the Blue and White
The defining game of this extraordinary season came in a huge
showdown between New Castle and Ellwood City at the old Ellwood
field where the current high school stands. New Castle had not lost
since the legendary Phil Bridenbaugh became coach in 1922 - the
total undefeated string had reached 43 games. New Castle was the
defending WPIAL champion and the immortal Ralph "Scooter" Day was
back for his final season.
Both teams were unscored upon. However, Ellwood was actually favored
going into the contest. The local team was heavier, and had won six
straight. A tough test had come against Monaca with its star Karcis,
but Ellwood prevailed 12-0. New Castle had won eight in a row,
including a 13-0 victory over still strong Harrisburg Tech, then in
its final season. Ellwood City returned 18 lettermen from a 1924 7-4
squad that had lost at New Castle 26-7.
On the day of the game, 10,000 packed the grounds. People living
near the old field stood on their house roofs to watch. The gridiron
was wet and muddy. New Castle claimed for years later that Ellwood
had "watered" the field to slow down the faster New Castle backs.
New Castle started the game like a house on fire. New Castle kicked
off and Ellwood punted the ball back on first down. Three first
downs brought the ball inside the five yard line. The Red and Black
were stopped on the one-foot line on fourth down.
This stand seemed to ignite Ellwood and an interception placed the
ball in New Castle territory. Then Ellwood's big gun, 6-1, 228 pound
Tom MacMurdo and teammate Harold Johnston carried to a first down on
the one. MacMurdo scored on the second play. End Jim Fitzgerald
kicked the conversion and Ellwood led 7-0.
In the second half, New Castle fought desperately. The climax came
when MacMurdo broke through center and ran 26 yards for the
clinching score. An Ellwood aerial attack threatened to widen the
margin late in the fourth quarter but Day intercepted a pass on his
own goal line on the last play of the game.
Ellwood City was acclaimed the best team in the state after this
mighty triumph. Ellwood then went on to romp over Homestead and East
Palestine, Ohio, by a combined score of 103-0 and finished the
season with a spotless record..
Two undefeated, untied teams remained in the WPIAL. Jeannette was
the other. Ellwood City and Jeannette were finally scheduled to play
for the championship on December 5, after all regular season games
had been completed. Surprisingly, Jeannette scheduled a game with
Latrobe for Thanksgiving Day. Latrobe tied Jeannette 6-6 and the
emblematic Syracuse Cup and the WPIAL championship were awarded to
These events did not end the season for Ellwood City, however. Out
in Illinois, Freeport had not been beaten for five years and was
two-time Illinois champion. The Midwesterners agreed to a
post-season game in Pennsylvania in a contest billed as a national
championship. Known as the Pretzels, Freeport brought a special
trainload of fans, including a fifty piece marching band, to the
game played in brand new Pitt Stadium.
Freeport showed great open field running and sharp passing and
defeated Ellwood, 13-7, with Tom MacMurdo scoring late to avert a
shutout. Two MacMurdo fumbles hurt earlier Ellwood City scoring
chances. Only 2454 witnessed the game in the huge arena.
End Fitzgerald, guard Art Applebaum, and backs MacMurdo and Johnston
were named to the All-WPIAL first team.
Two other MacMurdos started for Ellwood. Sophomore brother Jim was
the center. He went on to star at Pitt and then played three years
with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1930's NFL. Bob MacMurdo was the
23 Tom MacMurdo, the "Big Train", scored 120 points that season,
still the Ellwood City single season record. He reportedly received
a severe head injury in the New Castle game and was never the same
player. His college offers included Minnesota, Nebraska and Pitt..
A sub on this team was the later famed basketball coach at tiny
nearby Wampum, L. Butler Hennon. Hennon coached the Allen brothers,
including Phillies great Dick Allen, and led the Indians to three
state B championships.
H. Martin "Peck" Lee was the veteran Ellwood City coach. After years
of patient effort, his 1925 sqaud marked his greatest season. He had
instilled a fighting spirit in a veteran team.
The powerful 1925 Ellwood City staring lineup:
E Bill MARSH 195
T Curt NEFF 190
G Art APPLEBAUM 180
C Jim MACMURDO 180
G Bill HERGE 165
T Bob MACMURDO 175
E Jim FITZGERALD 175
Q Ross PARKER 165
H Johnny SANDERS 170
H Harold JOHNSTON 170
F Tom MACMURDO 228
The championship season record:
60 EVANS CITY 0
12 MONACA 0
20 BEAVER 0
20 BEAVER FALLS 0
20 WOODLAWN 0
64 NEW WILMINGTON 0
14 NEW CASTLE 0
31 HOMESTEAD 0
72 EAST PALESTINE Ohio 0
7 FREEPORT Illinois 13
In 1944, another Ellwood City team finished a perfect season and
reached the WPIAL AA championship game at Pitt Stadium. Now called
the Wolverines, Ellwood, led by All-State end Leon Presto battled
the great Donora team, losing a hard fought game to Arnold Galiffa,
Roscoe Ross and company, 13-0.
The contribution of Bob Vosburg, retired Sports and Managing Editor
of the New Castle News, to this article is acknowledged and