Not much was expected from the 1970 Kapaun football team.
"Like every school, we had that first preseason scrimmage,'' said Chris Squires, a lineman on that team. "We were lucky to beat the sophomores.''
It was Ed Kriwiel's second season as coach and despite earlier success at West High, there were those who thought Kriwiel — whose only season as Wichita State's football coach in 1968 resulted in a 0-10 record — was in too deep at Kapaun.
But Kriwiel, one of the most successful high school coaches in Kansas history, never flinched. He went about his business with quiet confidence, instilling in his players a will they never knew they had. Getting players to perform beyond their perceived abilities was a Kriwiel specialty, the reason he won nearly 300 games as a high school coach.
Never miss a local story.
"I think we had something like two lettermen coming back from a 3-6 team,'' said Jim Krsnich, the quarterback of the '70 Crusaders. "I know The Eagle at the time had two sportswriters who covered high schools. One of them picked us last in the league, the other picked us next to last.''
You know where this is leading.
Kapaun instead surprised its critics, winning the City League championship, then beat Ottawa 21-12 in the Class 3A championship game. It was the first state title for a CL team in the two years the Kansas State High School Activities Association held playoffs.
Players from that Kapaun team will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that championship at Friday night's Bishop Carroll-Kapaun game at Cessna Stadium.
"Everything just fell into place for that 1970 team,'' said Chuck Porter, an assistant coach who would later win state championships as a head coach at Carroll and East. "Our senior leadership on that team was great. It was one of the neatest experiences I've ever had.''
Two people with impossible-to-pronounce last names were key.
Of course, Kriwiel (Kree-wil) was the sideline general. Undeterred by a winless season at Wichita State, he returned to the high school ranks as determined as ever.
Krsnich (Kriz-nik) was the leader on the field. He passed for more than 1,500 yards that season, a league record that stood for more than two decades.
"He could really throw it,'' said Mike Gehrer, a sophomore punter on the '70 Kapaun team. "I remember, we had some really good receivers and those guys had bruises on their biceps all the time because Krsnich threw such a hard ball.''
Kapaun pulled off its first stunner in the season's first game, beating heavily-favored Southeast. The Crusaders' momentum continued to build until Oct. 2 and a 34-6 loss to South.
Krsnich threw three interceptions and Kapaun struggled to get anything going. There was a profound reason.
Earlier in the day, a plane carrying part of Wichita State's football team, boosters and administrators crashed in Colorado, killing 31. South's team obviously was touched by the tragedy, but it hit closer to home for Kriwiel, who had coached the Shockers two seasons earlier. Kapaun's players were aware of their coach's divided attention that night.
Porter said he and Kriwiel were at a doctor's office that afternoon when they heard the news of the crash on the radio.
"He was shaken,'' Porter said.
They parted ways, then met at Kapaun's field — then located on the northwest corner of Central and Woodlawn — a few hours before the game.
"In our little school,'' Krsnich said, "Ed personally taped our ankles before every game. I remember going in there that night, and usually you would have a friendly little chat. That particular day, he was just disturbed. He didn't say anything to me; I didn't say anything to him. It was a very weird day.''
Kriwiel, who was 81 when he died in 2007, wasn't the kind of guy to say much. But he did talk to the team before the game and told the players that if he hadn't gotten fired at Wichita State following the 1968 season, he probably would have been on the plane that went down.
He didn't dwell, though, and by the following week Kapaun was winning again. The South loss was the only loss of the season, one that ended with the exhilarating win over Ottawa in Emporia.
Ottawa was led by quarterback Steve Grogan, one of the state's best high school players who went on to play at Kansas State and in the NFL with the New England Patriots. Grogan scored a touchdown early in the second half to pull the Cyclones to within two points.
But on the three-yard TD run, Grogan dislocated an elbow and missed the rest of the game. Unable to throw — and with Grogan, Ottawa almost exclusively passed — the Cyclones couldn't mount another scoring drive and Kapaun running back Steve Gray scored his second touchdown seconds into the fourth quarter.
That win set off a Kapaun dynasty; the Crusaders won six state championships during an eight-year span from 1970-77; eight in 13 years and nine in 17 seasons.
"I think we did shock the world to some degree,'' Squires said. "But I don't think Eddie was shocked. He was just so even-keeled that nothing bothered him. He told us we were going to make this thing happen and it all just kind of steamrolled. Ed was always one of those guys who could make it happen.''
Kriwiel never swore at his players and rarely raised his voice. There was no wasted motion, just a devotion to precision.
The 1970 Kapaun team ran only a few offensive plays, with variations, but did so flawlessly.
"Ed inspired young kids to really put out a good effort and to think they're going to win,'' Krsnich said. "We were an overachieving team in '70, no doubt about it. That team, we were Ed Kriwiel's boys.''