They were called the Jakeys, but why?
“Who knows?” co-captain Brian Murphy said. “Why did we all have the nicknames we had back then?”
They didn’t have a go-to scorer.
“We never knew who was gonna come through with the next big goal,” Murphy noted.
Just what did they know?
How to win soccer games, of course.
Winning is what the 1973 Lawrence High soccer team knew the best.
After a 2-2 start, the Cardinals went 13-1-1 the rest of the way en route to claiming the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship. They did so one year after a loaded team, which included Cardinal legends Tim Murphy (Brian’s brother) and Mooch Myernick, came up short in a quest for a fourth straight state title, losing to Point Pleasant Boro in the Group 2 final.
“The year in front of us, which was supposedly the dream team, came in second,” Murphy said. “That was the first time that class of seniors came in second. We were coming up and it was like ‘Well if those guys couldn’t do it, there’s no way on earth the Jakeys are gonna do it.’”
They did it, all right, and on Apr. 2 they will be rewarded for it when they are one of three 1973 state champions inducted into the Mercer County Soccer Hall of Fame at the Hibernian club in Hamilton. Also going in will be Group 4 champion Steinert and Non-Public A champion St. Anthony’s (now Trenton Catholic Preparatory Academy). Tickets can be purchased by calling (609) 731-5906 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Murphy’s mother, Regina, by way of his sister, Gina, the Jakeys name originated from the fact that few people could see a state title in the Cards.
“My mom said they were the group that no one expected to win,” Gina said. “It was kind of like the movie The Sandlot. A bunch of kids that no one really knew.”
They knew them when the season ended, as Lawrence used a total team effort to achieve the goal no one thought possible.
Along with Murphy and fellow co-captain John Pasela, the roster included Dan Bannister, Tom Bushar, Jim Carroll, Bob Crine, Rich Debiec, Fred Gould, David Janezcek, Jim Kelly, Greg Kowalski, Rob Lowthian, Al Martin, Gary Mellilo, Greg Molnar, Tom Myslinski, Jim Price, Ed Sabisky, Greg Sandusky, Tim Snyder, Bob Tuccillo and the twin brother tandem of Joe Zimmer and John Zimmer.
There were nine seniors, eight juniors and three freshmen on the roster, along with manager Tom Converse and statisticians Julia Blatter and Terry McConnell.
Lou Angebranndt, a Mercer County coaching legend, was the head man who got everyone on the same page.
“We won because soccer is a team sport,” Murphy said. “We didn’t have any great players. We didn’t have a Mooch, we didn’t have a Tim Murphy. Tim Snyder came in as a sophomore that year which really helped fill a gap in our backfield. But he was very much a team player on our team.
“We didn’t have any superstars but we worked at putting together five, six, 10 passes in a row. That wasn’t unusual for us. Our average height was like, 5-7. So we kept the ball on the ground. We weren’t the biggest team, we weren’t the fastest team, we weren’t the most talented team but as a team we played well. Every game we went into we felt we were gonna win.”
Jim Fink, who played for Steinert’s undefeated team that year, remembered how cohesive the Cardinals were. The Spartans beat Lawrence twice by 2-1 counts, but it wasn’t easy.
“I would say that’s true,” Fink said of the Cardinals teamwork. “They didn’t have a big scorer but they had a really good team. We had a tough time with them both times we played.”
One thing the Jakeys had going for them is that they were under no pressure to keep a string of state championship seasons alive; since the 1972 team was runner-up. Another plus is that as underclassmen, they trained against some of the best players in the state during their practice sessions.
Murphy compared the Jakeys to the team that was paid to always lose against the Harlem Globetrotters.
“We were the Washington Generals of high school soccer,” Murphy said. “We had Mooch and my brother and the team in front of us, and we were scrimmaging them all the time. We were behind them so we played them all the time—high school soccer, club ball, and our job was just to be a foil for them.”
During that period of getting knocked around, the 1973 team had developed a chemistry that started when they attended Slackwood Elementary School and played rec soccer together. That was how the team effort got forged.
“We were a tight-knit group; it didn’t matter what position we were at, or whatever,” Murphy said. “We all worked with each other, supported each other and won because of each other.”
After losing to Steinert and Hightstown, the Jakeys were 2-2 but undaunted. John Zimmer missed the Steinert game with a concussion, and there were several other bumps and bruises.
“We were in a little disarray at that point,” Murphy said. “But it was like ‘Wait a minute, we’re not gonna lose, we’re gonna win.’ Everybody just gave a little bit more and it made the difference. As the season progressed we got more confident every game.”
Lawrence snapped the mini-skid by taking the first of what would be two wins over St. Anthony’s. After losing the Spartans a second time, the Cards carried an eight-game winning streak into their Central Jersey Group 2 first-round game at Hightstown. The Rams looked ready to do it again as they took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
“Our goalie went up to catch the ball and a guy hit him on the way down and they put it in,” Murphy recalled. “At halftime we were talking and saying ‘C’mon guys, we’re not gonna lose to this team.’ They were a very good team, they came in looking to win, but we went out in the second half and smoked them.”
Next was a 3-2 home win over Hopewell Valley, another challenging Mercer opponent. That was followed by the toughest game of the states, which featured what Murphy felt was “the play of the season.”
Playing Shore Regional—the team that beat Lawrence in the 1972 finals—the game at Peddie was tied 1-1 late. At that time, a deadlocked state game was not decided by overtime or shootout, but by whichever team had the most penalty kicks in regulation.
As the clock ran down, Molnar devised an ingenious plan.
“Greg Molnar was our hero,” Murphy said. “That team was very good, and that was a very difficult game for us.”
With Lawrence trailing in corner kicks, 4-3, Molnar got the players together and told them not to go for a winning goal, but to get him the ball and he would create the necessary corner kicks.
“So what did he do?” Murphy said. “He dribbled the ball into the corner, the defender came over, he kicked the ball off the guy’s leg, it went out of bounds, and we had a corner kick. We played it in, got the ball back to Molnar, the same defender runs up to him, he kicks the ball off his leg again, and it goes out of bounds again, and we win the game on corner kicks!”
That ridiculous rule was changed a year or two later, but the Cards were able to put it to good use while they still could.
“Through 50 years I still remember that,” Murphy said. “All credit goes to Greg Molnar. It was his ability to know the game and figure out a way to win.”
After that victory, all the pressure was off as Lawrence easily defeated Garfield, 4-1, in the state final at Mercer Park.
“That was probably one of the easiest games of the year for us,” Murphy said. “That game could have been 7-0 but Lou Angebranndt made sure everybody played. I think he had the cheerleaders playing the last quarter. Everybody played so they could say they played in the finals of the state championship game. It was really great.”
Angebranndt was the architect of seven state championship teams from 1967 to 1980. And while he was the beneficiary of great talent, he also knew what to do with it. Murphy has four sons who he coached, and he was a Wildwood Catholic assistant for several years. Thus, he knew the nuances of high school coaching.
“I could tell the players what to do and strategize, but to motivate them, that’s an art,” Murphy said. “I don’t have that skill, I’m the first to admit that. It’s as hard keeping those kids in line as it is anything else. If you can get the kids to listen then you can have a successful team.
“You need to get everyone going in the same direction. Lou got us all going in the same direction. You gotta know when to push and when to pull. Lou Angebranndt knew when to push and when to pull and he was able to get the most out of us.”
There was talent, of course. Despite the low expectations for the Jakeys, Pasela, Murphy and Janeczek were All-State, while Crine, John Zimmer, Mellilo, Tuccillo and Myslinski were All-County. Numerous players from all three classes went on to play college ball.
“I guess we won a state championship, so you gotta get some awards,” Murphy said with a laugh. “But we really were just a team first, and we’d figure out a way to win. It was always somebody different. If it wasn’t Tim Snyder in the background on defense it was Johnny Zimmer stabilizing things in the middle. Johnny Pasela and David Janeczek created plays. Everybody figured out a way. Gary Mellilo was an all-state basketball player, we needed a goalkeeper, he came out, caught everything in the air.
“It was a great time in all our lives. I played for a lot of teams afterwards. I don’t think I ever played for a team as close as my high school team. Just a great group of guys.”
Great guys, great team. Both Jakey trademarks.