The current Cougars easily boast the best collection of football talent the team has had in decades. But there are some Casa Grande Union teams from the 1950s whose dominance still echo down the school’s hallways and reverberate through the community.
The Cougars advanced to the 4A semifinals this season before losing 35-13 to Glendale Cactus on Dec. 4, a historic achievement for the school.
Sometimes when firing off a story at Formula One speed while on a tight deadline, mistakes are made. I recently made a mistake when writing about Casa Grande’s 4A quarterfinal victory over Peoria.
While that win put the Cougars in the state semifinals for the first time, I also wrote that the team had another goal yet to come — winning its first state championship. I later deleted that line from the online version of the story, realizing it was inaccurate.
This was not a mistake that came from lack of knowledge. I knew Casa Grande had previously won a football state championship. What I meant to write was that a win in the semifinals would put the school in its first ever state title game. There is a distinction.
For those who don’t know the history, state playoffs like we see today didn’t really begin in Arizona — via the Arizona Interscholastic Association — until 1959. Before that, state champions were determined by a meeting of the minds akin to an informal committee.
Usually the team with the best record in its classification won.
Casa Grande won mythical state titles in 1950, 1953 and 1958. The 1950 and 1953 titles were in Class B, while the 1958 title was in Class A. By winning three state titles in a nine-year span, it’s fair to call the Cougars of that decade a dynasty.
The 1950 team was coached by Thomas E. “Shanty” Hogan, with Al Van Hazel as the lone assistant coach. Van Hazel was the head coach for the other two championship teams.
The 1950 and 1958 teams won their titles outright, while a bizarre set of circumstances resulted in the 1953 title being a co-championship shared by three schools — Casa Grande, Globe and Phoenix Carver. The latter was an all-Black segregated high school that closed a year later in 1954.
In 1953, Carver finished with a 7-2 record, but it was undefeated against Arizona Class B competition. Its only losses came to Blythe, a Class B school in California just 5 miles across the state line, and Phoenix St. Mary’s, a Class A program.
Casa Grande went 9-1 with its lone defeat coming in Week 4 when it lost 32-28 to Bisbee. Globe was also 9-1, but here’s the kicker: its one loss was to Casa Grande. The Cougars won that game 14-13 in Week 2.
There are all sorts of interesting nuggets about how the 1953 Class B champion was chosen, many of which are included in a Casa Grande Dispatch article from that year, which unfortunately, has no byline.
“Although no actual state champion is chosen by any specified group, each year the sports writers and announcers about the state, as well as the coaches, come to some sort of agreement on a state champion,” the article states.
The article refers to the state title as “mythical” several times, and that is the accepted vernacular for championships won prior to the advent of state playoffs.
There is some discussion of other criteria discussed to determine the champion, such as total points scored and “defensive record,” which I assume refers to total points allowed.
“Again this year the situation appeared to give the much sought state crown to Carver, but experts took a better look at the records and came up with the Monarchs, Tigers and Cougars as Co-state champions,” the Dispatch article reads.
In 1958, Casa Grande went 9-0-1, its only blemish a 13-13 tie with Nogales.
Much has been written about the 1950 team, which is certainly the most dominant and celebrated team in school history. Those Cougars were 10-0 and outscored their opponents 478-91. Their smallest margin of victory was 21, a 34-13 win over Chandler in Week 6.
Shanty Hogan was a former University of Arizona quarterback who later coached Phoenix College to a JUCO national championship in 1964.
“He was an offensive genius,” Frank Coxon, a first team all-state center on the 1950 team, told PinalCentral in 2011. “He used to say show me a defense, and I’ll show you how to beat it.”
The 1950 team holds numerous school records, including most points in a season (478); most points per game (47.8); highest-scoring shutout (69-0 over Ajo); most points in a game (76 against Tolleson), most yards per game in a season (555, including 414.5 rushing); most rush yards in a game (550 versus Santa Cruz Valley) and most yards in a game (622 against Florence).
The Cougars were so fabulous in 1950 that Arizona Daily Star sports writer Lou Pavlovich traveled from Tucson to cover their last game of the season against Florence. Casa Grande put an exclamation point on its season by eviscerating Florence 55-0.
Pavlovich then waxed poetic about the Cougars in his Monday morning column.
“Did you ever see a dream running ... well I have,” he began. “That dream is the Casa Grande Cougars’ 1950 football team.”
Pavlovich wrote that it was “very likely one of the top elevens (teams) of any high school club in Arizona’s past.” Speed was the name of the game for the 1950 Cougars, but to Pavlovich, simply calling them fast did not do them justice.
“They were syncopated murder on the gridiron, relatively small for any high school team, but extremely fleet afoot ... all of ‘em,” he wrote. “They were the type of team that one coach in a thousand gets once in a lifetime.”
Glenn King was the star halfback on the 1950 crew, rushing for 2,200 yards and scoring 24 total touchdowns. King’s single-season school record for rushing yards and total TDs stood until 1994 when Russell Trejo surpassed them with 2,349 yards and 25 TDs.
King, end John Morgan and tackle George Marsh were also first team all-state selections alongside Coxon.
Fullback Bob Perguson had 17 TDs, and he was followed by halfback Dave MacGregor with 11 TDs and Morgan with nine scores.
Although the team didn’t throw much, quarterback Jim Stevens still had 16 TD passes.
“Where in this big, wide, cruel world can you find anything to compare with Casa Grande high school? It’s heaven, I tell you ... heaven,” Pavlovich wrote in the closing of his 1950 column.
The Cougars fell a little short of ultimate glory in 2020, but the 2021 team has a good shot of adding a long-awaited fourth state championship to the trophy case.
I think the trophies from the 1950s would welcome a new friend.