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History of MIAA
100 Years of Hope Football
Excerpted and edited from the book, "Journey of Hope: Names and Games Remembered", a history of intercollegiate athletics at Hope College by Gordon M. Brewer, director of athletics at Hope from 1960-88 and a member of the football coach staff when this game was played.
In the annals of Hope (and perhaps MIAA) football, no game shines brighter than the one played on October 25, 1958 at Hillsdale. In succeeding eras, rules, techniques and equipment have changed, making comparisons difficult. However, for excitement, tension and sheer drama, the encounter stands alone. The game, replayed and embellished for years, is now fraught with innocent fabrications. Ironically, as one examines the action as it occurred, there is little need to embellish.
Circumstances preceding the match-up undoubtedly increased the interest and attention it received. Hype was rampant in Holland and increased daily with the countdown to game day. Frank "Muddy" Waters had taken over at Hillsdale in 1954 and promptly won the MIAA title with a perfect 6-0 record. In stunnng fashion he had repeated the feat in 1955, 1956 and 1957. And now in 1958 the Dales had posted three more MIAA wins to extend their streak to 27. But the Flying Dutchmen had challenged in 1957 before falling by the narrow margin of 7-6. Hope's last victory in the series had been by a 28-7 count in the 1953 championship year. The stage was set for a small-college classic, and fans would not be disappointed.
A clear majority of the 2,200 in attendance for the night game had made the trip from Holland and took their place in the stands, all of which were on the home team's side of the field. Press box facilities were adequate for the time, but no field phones were available for the visitor's bench. Anticipating this, coaches Russ DeVette and Ken Weller could be seen prior to game time stringing wire around the field and up to the press box, where coach Weller would later take his perch.
Hope won the toss and chose to kick off for a variety of reasons. Coach De Vette had great faith in his defensive front. He also felt that early game jitters could be handled best on defense. So much for strategy.
The kickoff was fumbled by Hillsdale and recovered by Hope on the Dales' two-yard line. On the first play, quarterback Paul Mack sneaked into the end zone. Hope was ahead 7-0 just 15 seconds into the game. That score would stand throughout the first half.
There was no scoring in the third period, but in the final stanza the Dales march 90 yards in 10 plays to tie the score.
Every team has in its repertoire, a few plays known as "game breakers". In 1956 Hope had been beaten handily by Heidelberg College. A play that did considerable damage to the Dutchmen cause was a deep reverse which employed remarkable deception. Coach De Vette was impressed enough to incorporate the play into his own system. Now, with six minutes remaining and Hope on the Hillsdale 42, De Vette called for the "Heidelberg". Right wingback Pete Watt would be the eventual ball carrier. Opposite him on defense was end "Jellybean" Reynolds, an outstanding athlete who had scored Hillsdale's touchdown earlier in the game. The play began as a right end sweep with the flow of backs in that direction. Reynolds detected the trickery and came hard across the line. The Hope coaches held their collective breath as Jellybean's long arm reached out for the diminutive halfback. He missed by the narrowest of margins, and from that point the play proceeded as diagrammed in the play book. Watt was untouched around left end in a 42-yard touchdown romp. But the PAT kick failed; Hope's lead was 13-7.
Hillsdale produced an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive of its own. The PAT kick split the upright, but Hillsdale was charged with illegal procedure. The Dales' second kick attempt was blocked leaving the scored tied at 13-13 with 3:50 remaining.
With the game in balance, Coach DeVette again went innovative employing a semispread formation that moved the Flying Dutchmen to the Hillsdale 21. Timeouts had been expended and bedlam reigned in the Hope bench area. Seemingly, De Vette alone retained his composure and concentration.
The coach decided Hope would attempt a field goal. Kicker Bill Huibregtse raced on to the field with the kicking tee. Teammate Dick Buckley, who usually centered for kicks, started onto the field. About eight yards in he was called back by the coaches, who realized that he would not get into position in time. It was time for improvisation -- lineman Gene Van Van Dongen realized the dilemma and quickly moved over the ball. He snapped it to holder Jack Faber and kicker Bill Huibregtse's 39-yard kick sailed through the uprights as time ran out -- Hope 16, Hillsdale 13! Lacking a pictorial record of the winning field goal, the photo above right was posed afterwards for the media. Gene Van Dongen holds for Bill Huibregtse. For the game-winning kick Van Dongen actually snapped the ball to holder Jack Faber.
Controversy followed as Hillsdale would maintain that Hope had more than the allowed 11 players on the field. We will never know. The Hillsdale game photographer ran out of film just before the final plays.