From When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football's Longest Winning Streak by Neil Hayes, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2014 by Neil Hayes. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

The record books indicate that the greatest winning streak in football history began with a 34—14 season-opening victory over Merced High School in 1992. But the truth is, The Streak was born during a confrontation in the weight room during a suffocating summer day several months after the loss to Pittsburg in 1991.

Juniors Alli Abrew, who threw the game-clinching interception during Pittsburg's 35—27 upset victory in the 1991 NCS championship game, and running back Patrick Walsh, who couldn't hang on for a game-saving tackle, were determined to learn from mistakes made the year before.

When The Game Stands Tall
(Courtesy of Bob Larson)

Bob Ladouceur re-evaluated the program. He realized that he had been too lax, allowing players to come out late and coaches to leave early. From that point on he demanded total commitment from everyone. They owed one another that.

Offensive line coach Steve Alexakos introduced his own high level of accountability into the program. He was brought up from the JV staff mid- way through the 1991 season. His first words after the loss to Pittsburg were a rallying cry for the program:

"Monday, we go back to work," he said.

It was the end of a streak and the beginning of "The Streak." It was a painful loss, sure, but it also was an awakening.


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"That game was a defining moment in our program's history," Ladouceur says. "The kids showed a tremendous amount of character after that game. It was a turning point for our program."

Players already had made "Leave No Doubt" their rallying cry for the upcoming season. They took it upon themselves to ratchet up the intensity during off-season workouts, pushing one another beyond established limits, calling one another out when someone skipped a repetition in the weight room or coasted during sprints.

Their dedication extended beyond the field. Team leaders discovered three players violated the no-alcohol policy over the summer and were told to either match their teammates' commitment level or leave the team.

Ladouceur didn't know about the forced resignations until later.

"That was a huge turning point," Patrick Walsh recalls. "That was when the team finally took itself over. It has been on automatic pilot ever since. Coach Lad is almost like a guidance counselor."

Quarterback Alli Abrew blamed the loss to Pittsburg the previous year on his interception and fumble. He vowed to redeem himself. Walsh was just as devout.

Without a size advantage, he propelled himself over and around would-be tacklers with the sheer force of his indomitable will. He rushed for 2,032 yards and 38 touchdowns during his senior season and embodied the ascendant spirit of the program.

The 34 points the Spartans put up in their season opener was the fewest they would score in any game all season. They went on a rampage through the regular season, outscoring opponents by an average of 50—8, including a resounding 44—7 victory over the Pittsburg team that ended their 34-game win streak the year before.

In that game Walsh turned in one of the most dominant individual performances in De La Salle history. A standing-room-only crowd filled Owen Owens Field. Fans stood twelve deep in the end zones. They watched Walsh rush for touchdowns of 77, 35, and 20 yards, catch a 51-yard touch- down pass from Abrew, and throw a 62-yard touchdown pass.

He finished with 224 rushing yards on fourteen carries, four touch- downs, one touchdown pass, and 360 yards of total offense.

"That was an angry team," Eidson remembers. "Every game was a personal affront to them. We kept waiting for them to settle down and they never did. We've never had a team like that. Every game really mattered."

Walsh taped newspaper articles above his bed heralding Pittsburg's upset victory the year before. Every night for a year he heard those articles rustling in the breeze from the ceiling fan. It made it hard to sleep but he wanted to remind himself of that loss every night before he went to bed.

He told his teammates this story during the meeting the night before the rematch with Pittsburg in the 1992 NCS championship game, and it has been passed down ever since.

"Patrick Walsh is the most passionate person I have ever met, and he was able to channel that tremendous passion into high school football like nobody I've ever seen," says Tyler Scott, a senior wide receiver on the 1991 team that lost to Pittsburg.

It wasn't until after the Spartans defeated the Pirates 41—6 the following day that Walsh took the articles down and slept peacefully.

"That team taught me about the program," said Mike Blasquez, who was a first-year trainer in 1992. "It wasn't like they lost a game and had to work harder. It wasn't as simple as that. They examined the relationships and the intangibles that would make them a tighter group. They talked about how the seniors the year before didn't love each other and didn't watch each other's backs and how that was the reason they had lost. They wouldn't let that happen. They were going to do everything right. It goes back to Bob's initial dream: to create a program that teaches life skills at all costs, that teaches players how to do things right at all costs.

It had nothing to do with football."

That team set the standard for every De La Salle team since. Juniors on the 1992 team saw the personal accountability that seniors demanded and followed their example. It became less of a coach-driven program and more of player-driven program.

"People always wonder what will happen when De La Salle finally loses," Walsh says. "I know what will happen. It will be a rebirth."

In only a handful of games has The Streak been in serious jeopardy. Only once could it be legitimately suggested that fate intervened.

The Streak was still in its infancy when De La Salle traveled to Pittsburg for the sixth game of the 1993 season. The crowd of 6,500 that packed Pirate Stadium was delirious late in the fourth quarter.

Pitt coach Herc Pardi was bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, head down, praying, during the final minute of regulation.

The Pirates scored on a two-point conversion with forty-five seconds left to give Pittsburg a 21—20 advantage.

"I remember talking to God after we scored," Pardi recalls. "That's the wrong person to talk to when you're playing a Catholic school."

The crowd began celebrating what would surely be Pittsburg's second win over the Spartans in three years. De La Salle fans were filing out of the stadium.

"The game was over," remembers Pittsburg quarterback Cy Simonton. "They were a running team. If they put the ball in the air, we had the athletes to knock it down so they couldn't score. There was no way they were going to beat us."

There were twenty-three seconds left after quarterback Mike Bastianelli completed a 16-yard pass to the Pittsburg 46.

Bastianelli, who was also the team's kicker, rolled out left on the next play, just hoping to throw a safe pass to the flat to move that much closer to field-goal range.

The Pittsburg defense double-covered the running back in the flat, forcing Bastianelli to search for a secondary receiver. He found tight end Nate Geldermann running a deep drag pattern over the middle. Geldermann was a good athlete but not a big-play threat. Bastianelli knew it could be a big gain but worried about the clock. Geldermann would catch the ball in the middle of the field. It would be difficult to get out of bounds.

Bastianelli let the ball fly, hoping he hadn't made a game-ending mistake. Geldermann made the catch at the 35 and swerved at the last moment to avoid a head-hunting Pittsburg defender. They were screaming at him to get out of bounds on the De La Salle sideline. When he veered toward the left sideline they started jumping up and down, encouraging him to keep running for the end zone.

Another defender dove at his feet at the 10 but Geldermann stepped out of the tackle. When he reached the end zone after a 46-yard play, De La Salle had a 26—21 lead with 11 seconds left and the celebratory atmosphere had been replaced by stunned silence.

"Everything about De La Salle football is so precise that nothing is left to luck," says De La Salle tight end Tony Lupoi said. "But that play right there, it seems like somebody was guiding us along."

"They practice that play every day," Pardi said of what was by far the most gut-wrenching loss of his career. "That wasn't luck."

The Pittsburg and De La Salle coaching staffs were the only ones who recognized the irony amid all the heartbreak and jubilation. The winning touchdown had been scored on the same play Ladouceur had called in 1991 when Abrew's pass, intended for tight end Andrew Freeman, was intercepted by Percy McGee and returned 79 yards for a touchdown that provided the winning margin in Pittsburg's 35—27 victory.

"It was a very, very quiet bus ride home," Lupoi said of the trip back to Concord after the last-second win in 1993. "Most teams would celebrate a victory like that. We're not most teams. That was a bruise. To put yourself in a situation where you have to win in the last minute meant so much had gone wrong there was nothing to say."