Bob Lutz

Kapaun-Southeast football rivalry was one for the ages

Kapaun coach Ed Kriwiel kisses his daughter, Suzanne, after the Crusaders won the 1981 Class 5A championship.
Kapaun coach Ed Kriwiel kisses his daughter, Suzanne, after the Crusaders won the 1981 Class 5A championship. File photo

Editor’s note: Bob Lutz is retiring from The Eagle in April after 43 years at the paper. He’s writing about some of his best memories covering Wichita and Kansas sports.

From 1974 through 1978, Kapaun Mount Carmel and Southeast combined to win 110 football games and lose nine. Five of those losses were to each other.

It was an incredible run of dominance by high school programs in the midst of dynasties. Southeast won four state championships in Classes 5A and 6A from 1976-80 and Kapaun won four straight in 3A from 1974-77.

Kapaun and Southeast had something else in common: Hatred for one another. Or at least a really strong dislike.

Both east-side schools, the students who attended them knew one another. Or were aware of one another.

Kapaun was the private school with many well-to-do parents. Southeast was the public school with many well-to-do parents. There was an ongoing battle for bragging rights in every sport.

But football is where it ignited.

Kapaun’s coach was the legendary Ed Kriwiel, a gentle man with a vast intellect. He is the winningest and greatest coach in City League history and his teams won state championships right and left.

Southeast’s coach from 1973-77 was the burly and brusque Jim Davie, who had previously been a successful coach at Mulvane and Derby before bringing his amped-up persona to the City League.

Kriwiel and Davie were polar opposites in personality and style, and it made for some interesting juxtapositions.

The soft-spoken Kriwiel kept his feelings close to the cuff and preferred to be as general as possible when it came to his coaching techniques and thoughts about the opposition.

Davie, meanwhile, was a junkyard dog, a master of motivation. He wasn’t on Kriwiel’s level as a tactician but on a level all of his own when it came to getting players to foam at the mouth.

Davie’s first Southeast team, in 1973, finished 6-3 and lost to Kapaun.

There was always a great sense of anticipation for Kapaun-Southeast games, but they weren’t often close. Even so, the success of both teams in the City League and in the state playoffs created a must-see feel that often drew from 8,000 to 10,000 fans to Cessna Stadium.

It didn’t take long for Davie to get the fire going. His second meeting with Kriwiel and Kapaun, in the first game of the 1974 season, resulted in a 23-13 Southeast win. It was the only Crusaders loss. Southeast, meanwhile, lost in the Class 5A championship game 30-0 to Shawnee Mission North.

The Buffs were just getting started, though.

They beat Kapaun again in 1975 — the Crusaders’ only loss in another 3A championship run — 34-13 behind the running of Tracy Levy, who gained 186 yards on 26 carries.

Kapaun, with quarterback Chris Gebert leading the way, beat Southeast 28-0 in 1976. This time, it was the Buffs’ only loss in a state-championship season. The Kapaun-Southeast game was interrupted late in the first half when Kriwiel had to leave the field while suffering from chest pains. He didn’t return to Kapaun until the playoffs more than two months later.

In 1977, it was Southeast’s turn to blank Kapaun 26-0 as Earnie Coleman rushed for 102 yards and young Jeff Smith, who later played at Nebraska and in the NFL, gained 52 yards on eight carries. The Southeast win snapped a 25-game Kapaun winning streak and it was the final time Davie and Kriwiel faced off.

By that time, the two coaches had built up a respectable relationship, despite their enormous differences. Davie, who left after the 1977 season to join Jim Dickey’s staff at Kansas State, was in awe of Kriwiel’s football mind. And Kriwiel had to admire a coach who could beat him three times in five seasons.

When Davie departed, assistant Dennis Cavalier took over. He had a personality much more like that of Kriwiel and a football brain, to boot. Cavalier and Davie had been together as players at Southwestern and coached together at Mulvane, Derby and Southeast.

There weren’t big changes to the Southeast system. But there was a huge shift in mood.

Cavalier kept most of the Davie braintrust — John Dawkins, Dan Johnson and Bill Means. And Kriwiel had his own excellent staff of assistants that included Chuck Porter.

The two teams were full of great coaches and athletes and it was always a privilege to cover their games, which I did from 1975-80.

Kapaun fell off some in 1979, finishing 5-4. The Crusaders were 6-3 in 1980 before starting to churn again with high-caliber players and state-championship teams.

Southeast’s run of dominance ended after an 11-1 season in 1980, when the Buffs won another championship. Cavalier, 3-0 in his career against Kapaun, decided to move on to Goddard.

Kapaun and Southeast remained rivals, of course, but the intensity of the animosity cooled.

All these years later, the three coaching mainstays at the center of the rivalry — Kriwiel, Davie and Cavalier — remain three of the best coaches I was ever around.

I knew Davie and Cavalier from my years attending Derby and although I didn’t play high school football, I developed a strong affinity for both coaches.

My experiences with Kriwiel came later, after I started at The Eagle. Imagine the anxiety of a 20-year-old kid, really, approaching a legendary coach like Kriwiel after a game. That’s what I was paid to do and there were times when it didn’t go so well. I believe I was able to earn Kriwiel’s respect over the years and came to know him as not just a great coach, but a wonderful man.

Davie, meanwhile, would often call me on Saturday mornings after Friday night games to “discuss” what I had written in a game story. He had trouble letting go of the fact that he was Jim Davie and I was some high school kid. We figured it out, though, and became good friends.

And Cavalier was one of the best men I’ve known.

All have died but are missed. Those who played football for them will forever be grateful for the opportunity. As I am for getting to write about the greatest rivalry I covered.