When is a win a loss?
Apparently, when your quarterback is almost of legal drinking age.
Phillipsburg’s only meeting with Clifton prior to Friday night’s North 2, Group 5 semifinal game against the Mustangs came in 1934, a 39-0 home win at what – at that time – was a brand new Maloney Field (though an archived newspaper account says it was at Hillcrest Stadium – perhaps this was an old name for it at the time, as Maloney had opened in 1932).
The Stateliners entered the game on a 17-game winning streak, which reached 25 with the win over Clifton.
Runningback Paul Opdyke scored three touchdowns and a pair of extra points in the game, “and made himself generally useful otherwise,” according to a newspaper account in The Herald-News of Passaic from November 12, 1934.
The ‘Liners would win one more game – bringing the streak to 26 – before all hell broke loose: arch-rival Easton found out P’burg’s quarterback was too old to be playing.
According to a November 28 article in the Bergen Record – a day before their annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry game with the Rovers – “Intense research work by officials of Easton High, Easton, Pa., arch-rival of Phillipsburg, brought to light the ineligibility of Quarterback John Dornich. The signal-caller was found to be past his twentieth birthday.”
The article goes on to say that Easton checked carefully the record of every Phillipsburg player that year. His age had been established through a “baptismal paper” in Passaic dated June 3, 1915. Easton officials were “not content with this,” according to the article, ad delved further into it, finding a record in “the Garfield register” stating it was June 3, 1914.
Confronted, Dornich “admitted his true age,” after which the Phillipsburg principal notified all their opponents that year that the Stateliners would forfeit all of their games.
Another player reportedly had reached his 20th birthday in the middle of the season, a lineman, who immediately came off the team.
Phillipsburg was the favorite to be named Group 4 state champions that year (champions were named before the playoffs began in 1974) but ultimately did not take the crown. In their nine games leading up to the Easton affair, they had allowed just one score, a touchdown, in a 14-7 win over Asbury Park. That game, along with the other eight, were forfeited.
Phillipsburg still got the last laugh: They beat Easton on Thanksgiving 13-0 for their fourth straight victory against their friends from across the Delaware.
Not counting the seasons before 1905 where the first four campaigns only included one, two or three games in a “season,” it’s the only one-win season in school history.
But they beat Easton. And that’s all that has ever mattered.
So what happened to John Dornich?
John passed away on Febraury 24, 1993 at age 78. And yes, the math works out that he would have been born in 1914, and 20-years-old at the time of the age controversy.
He had run Dornich’s Tavern in Brainards, NJ – an outpost on the Delaware River a short ride North of Phillipsburg, for 56 years, according to his obituary in the Allentown Morning Call. His wife, Ethel, continued to run the place until 2004, when she retired.
The tavern has since closed, and is now a private home on Broad Street, right by the railroad tracks.
Just as you’d imagine any tavern that opened in the 1930s would be.