Motivation from a disappointing ending the year before. Undersized guys willing to roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work, if not “run through brick walls,” as the old saying goes. And a little bit of luck.

All of those descriptions seem suitable when talking about the 1973 Washington High School football team.

As Andy Hagedorn, a junior on the team that season, told the Missourian newspaper in 2001, “We didn’t know how to lose. No one expected us to be any good after we lost 8-0 to Union in 1972, but we went on a run. We didn’t have great speed or size, but we had guys like Dave Benz, who was a 150-pound guard but just a mean and aggressive player. That was the kind of team we had.”

Those words make the Blue Jays almost fictional, maybe mythical. However, there was no denying that they were the real deal, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 1973 Washington High School Football State Championship Team with the Class of 2023.

In fact, this fall marks the 50th anniversary of the only state football championship team in the history of Washington High School.

Located just west of the St. Louis Metro area on the banks of the Missouri River, Washington had all the pieces to win the Class 3 state title. In essence, the Blue Jays took on the personality of their coach, Jim Scanlan, and showed smartness and toughness to win games.

The team finished 11-0 after a 14-7 victory against Jefferson City Helias at Rolla High School.

What a thrilling finish it was.

Ted Stahl, a junior then, returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown with 46 seconds left in the game. Stahl jumped in between four Helias players, grabbed the bouncing ball and raced down the sideline for the winning TD. Dennis Brune scored the two-point conversation on a pass from quarterback Leroy Eggert.

Earlier, Eggert scored the team’s first TD on a 1-yard run.

In the end, the team featured six All-State players in Eggert, Mark Rothschild, Gary Vogel, Brune, Alan Elsenrath and Keith Maune.

“We had a bunch of guys who believed in the Scanlan way,” Brune said. “We made very few mistakes.  We just ground it out and found ways to win.”

The 1972 season had been on players’ minds for months in the offseason. And why not? The Blue Jays had lost three games, including its first ever conference loss.

So when practices began in August 1973, there was almost workmanlike approach to the season. In essence, it was as if the guys put on their hardhats, threw a lunch pail in the truck and headed off to work.

“Coaching had a lot do with our success that season,” Eggert said.  “Beyond that, it was a group of players that bought into the system.”

The season began with a forfeit victory, and then featured victories against Farmington (7-6), Sullivan (18-7), Union (15-7), Pacific (8-6), St. Clair (36-7), Hermann (46-0), St. James (36-0) and Owensville (31-0).

Gary Vogel, Carey Curran and Tim Calvin were the running backs, and Washington just kept feeding them the ball every Friday night. Fortunately, the success meant a postseason berth, in which only four teams advanced.

The Blue Jays then beat North County of Desloge-Bonne Terre 20-14 in the semifinals. Eggert scored two touchdowns, and Calvin added another. Vogel rushed for 151 yards on 38 carries.

In the championship game, the Blue Jays fell behind 7-0 with 5:28 to play in the first quarter on a 73-yard touchdown run. However, Washington’s defense toughened up, and the team scored just before halftime.

Washington’s next TD was the result of Stahl’s aggressiveness.

“Before the play, I asked Dennis Brune if I could try to block the punt and he said no. He wanted to set up the picket fence along the sideline and go for the big return,” Stahl said. “The punter shanked it to my left. Helias wanted to down the ball, but I grabbed it and took off. My friend Tim Calvin ran with me the whole time.”

Said Hagedorn, “I didn’t want to block anyone and take the chance of a penalty. Coach Scanlan would’ve killed me.”

There were only 43 seconds left after the two-point conversation, and then the Blue Jays intercepted a pass on the next play to seal the victory.

All in all, what a season it was.