It Was the Best of Times, It Was El Modena Time
September 29, 1979, was a strange kind of Saturday night in Orange. The shorthand lingo of the Fred Kelly Stadium scoreboard described it thus: El Modena 28, Edison 27.
But that wasn’t half the story.
Nowadays, when players from the 1979 El Modena High School football team get together to recall a little of their glory days, that is the night that springs to mind.
For the team with the broken-armed quarterback, the mascot that waddles, the set of identical triplets on the line and a 20-pound disadvantage at nearly every position, Sept. 29th still marks the best of the good times.
Ask Bob Lester, Vanguard coach. He’ll admit that, by all rights, his team should not have had a remote hope of winning the game.
None of the 6,500 people who sat transfixed in Fred Kelly Stadium will ever forget it, either. In football or economic terms, those fans got a colossal bargain. For $2 or less, they bought a ticket to witness David defeat Goliath.
Over in the Goliath camp, members of the former No. 1-ranked football team in California, the Edison Chargers, don’t care to remember that particular game.
To them, it was noteworthy only because it was the second-to-last time they lost a game for three seasons. After El Modena, Edison won 34 of its next 35 games, setting the record for the second-longest winning streak in Southern Section history at 32.
If they remember it at all, the Chargers recall how hot and oppressive it felt as their bus pulled into Orange, and how tiny the visitors’ quarters at Fred Kelly seemed.
“I hated going to play at El Modena; I just never liked the place . . . it was bad karma,” said Scott Strosnider, a starter on the 1979 Edison team.
Speaking of bad luck, the El Modena Vanguards--or the Ducks as their colorful coach prefers--actually had to absorb the majority of it.
Before the game, Lester had grimly predicted, “We don’t win if Frasco doesn’t have a big game.” He was referring to quarterback Bob Frasco, the Ducks’ main asset.
Some people thought it was funny that Lester would even have the audacity to mention winning. Nobody imagined the talented quarterback would have his arm broken from a second-quarter tackle and be lost for the rest of the season.
If winning was unlikely, winning in the absence of Frasco was unthinkable.
Doug Rozsa, an El Modena linebacker, the student body president and one of the Rozsa triplets, remembers fellow students telling him their team would be lucky to score at all against the country’s third-ranked team.
His brother, Dave, an all-county offensive guard and the senior class president, said, “It was comparable to the Raiders playing somebody like the New Orlean Saints.”
The awe-inspiring Edison team was led by Frank Seurer, later a professional quarterback for the Los Angeles Express and the son of the former Denver Bronco of the same name. There also was tailback Kerwin Bell, perhaps the best ever to grace Orange County’s playing fields. At Kansas in 1980, he was named the Big Eight Conference newcomer of the year as a freshman.
The Chargers also had tight end Mark Boyer, who went on to play at USC and is now employed by the Indianapolis Colts; linebacker Ray Malavasi, son of the former Ram coach, and tight end Duaine Jackson, another subsequent USC starter.
Thirteen members of that Edison team received football scholarships.
By contrast, only one El Modena player went on to play football at a four-year school. Frasco attended Weber State for a year before transferring to Santa Ana College and then on to San Jose State.
Today, some of the Vanguards are college students, such as the Rozsa triplets, who attend UCLA. Offensive tackle Bob Korb is an engineer, and fullback Jose Gill is a criminal investigator.
“When I went to El Modena, we were always considered the underdogs, even though we had won the CIF (Southern Conference title in 1978),” Frasco said. “It was like we had to battle to get respect from other teams. We always had something to prove.”
Doug Rozsa remembers that El Modena had been selected to finish fourth in the Century League in 1979. A strong Vanguard team in 1978 had lost its only game of the season to Edison. Lester said 1979 was supposed to be a down year, and in fact the ’79 team had already lost a game to Loara before meeting Edison.
The Vanguards went on a scouting mission to watch Edison play a talented Canyon team the previous week. It was a sobering experience. The Chargers destroyed Canyon, 43-14.
“It seemed like Kerwin Bell scored four or five touchdowns,” Frasco recalled. “It really opened our eyes. We were so damn scared of them. We were terrified going into practice that week.
“But the coaches told us, ‘They’re the same age as you. Go in there and do a job.’ ”
Although Edison built a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the El Modena defense held the formidable Bell to just 10 yards rushing on six carries in the first half.
“The key was holding Kerwin Bell,” Frasco said. Bell did get back in stride in the second half, finishing with two touchdowns and a total of 134 yards rushing.
The Vanguard disaster occurred early in the second quarter.
El Modena had possession, and Frasco was scrambling near his team’s end zone. No receivers were available. He dodged out to the 20-yard line, where he was hit by an Edison safety. Frasco had never broken a bone in his life, but as soon as he got to his feet, he feared he had experienced the first.
“I wasn’t sure, but I had a pretty good idea it was busted,” he said. “There was pain, and it was just kind of flopping around. I didn’t tell anyone for a while. I just tried to hide it.”
Trying to steady his left arm, Frasco led the Vanguards down the field. To climax the series of plays, he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass, and El Modena tied the score, 7-7.
Then he could stand the growing pain no more. When the defense came on the field, he exited for the hospital, where X-rays revealed he had broken his forearm. He returned to watch the game with his arm in a sling.
Lester had a kind of “empty feeling.” The Vanguards’ back-up quarterback, Rick Ledesma, had never thrown a pass in a varsity game.
“We knew he was a skilled kid, but we really hadn’t worked with him. Frasco had been such a fine quarterback the year before, and we knew he would be such a great one that we wanted to work with him. When you had a quality quarterback like Frasco, you probably ignored some of the back-ups.”
Ledesma completed 6 of 11 passes for 139 yards in the second half against the Chargers.
“Rick went in and played a heck of a football game,” Lester said. “After that, Ledesma came on (during the remainder of the season) and became one of the finest quarterbacks we ever had.”
El Modena never led Edison until 4:52 remained and flanker Kurt Adams scored on a nine-yard run. Ledesma fumbled on the two-point conversion attempt, but Adams recovered in the end zone for a 22-21 lead.
Bell carried the Chargers 53 yards on seven carries, and Edison was in front, 27-22, three minutes later when Seurer ran the ball in from the one. But the pass play failed on the conversion.
Ledesma rallied the Vanguards with less than two minutes to go, and he won the unwinnable game on a nine-yard pass to wide receiver Scott Buehler with 50 seconds left. When Edison’s Dino Bell fumbled the kick-off, El Modena simply held on to the ball for the victory.
It was just a high school football game played six seasons ago. Yet, some witnesses still claim that it was the most exciting game they had ever seen.
The Big Game
Edison vs. El Modena
The records--Edison (8-3), El Modena (13-1).
The site--Orange Coast College.
Key to the game--Much will depend on the effectiveness of the El Modena defense, particularly the Vanguards’ untested secondary.
The reason is that Charger quarterback Mike Angelovic has the advantage of two of the county’s better returning receivers, wide receiver Rick Justice (44 passes for 902 yards last season) and tight end Ken Griggs (14 receptions for 226 yards). Edison running back Kaleaph Carter is among Southern California’s most promising sophomores, but he will run into difficulty against fine Vanguard linemen Don Gibson (6-3, 255) and Allen Ennis (6-1, 220), as well as linebackers Ross Bauer, Joe Scagliotti and Pepe Jezek.
Consensus--With the addition of kicker Tim Bontrager this season, the Chargers should not suffer many one-point losses, the margin in all their 1984 defeats. This will be a hard-fought game, and Edison should emerge victorious by a point.