Holy Cross, Easton renew old grid rivalry for now

By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports

Lou Brownson and  Harold “Hoss” Memtsas were two of the most competitive head football coaches in the New Orleans Prep League.

But they shared the bond of a sincere friendship, regardless of the ferociousness of their teams when they met on the field of battle.

The two schools were also longtime rivals; not as long as Easton’s wars with Jesuit, which date back nearly to the beginning of the 20thcentury. The Tigers vs. Eagles battles began when Holy Cross fielded its first football team in 1922. The series between the city’s premier public school and its Catholic counterpart lasted until 1970 when the march of time and circumstances drove them apart.

The two schools will end the hiatus for the time being when they face each other on the Tad Gormley Stadium turf on Oct. 11 in a non-district game, one week following the 100th meeting between Jesuit and Holy Cross.

The Brownson vs. Memtsas series, which began in 1946 when “Hoss” was named the head football coach at Easton was colorful, indeed, and helped change the culture of Holy Cross football four years after Brownson became coach of the Tigers.

But it took 21 years for the neophyte Tigers to catch up to the caliber of talent the Easton Eagles possessed, handed down from coaches Perry Roehm, Harry Gamble, Pete Miller, “Lefty” Haynes, and the legendry Johnny Brechtel. Through four coaching changes, the game was hardly a contest from 1922 through 1941, with few exceptions.

During that period, Warren Easton held a commanding 14-2 lead, with four games ending in ties.

The Tigers’ wins came in 1937 when the Tigers defeated Brechtel’s Eagles, 6-0; and in 1940 when they won again, 14-0, en route to a 7-2-1 record.

Role reversal

Then in 1942, while assistant mentor Memtsas put his coaching career on hold to serve in the U.S. Navy at the outbreak of World War II, Holy Cross made an ingenious hire.

The administration convinced Lou Brownson to leave Jesuit, where he was Coach Gernon Brown’s right-hand man. Holy Cross fortunes changed in two sports as Brownson’s football teams would win 97 games over the next 15 years, while the school’s wrestling program produced 28 state championships over the decades.

That string began when Brownson had the idea to strengthen his football players by starting a wrestling program. On the school’s faculty was a Polish Holy Cross Brother, Melchior Polowy, who had a background in that sport. The state championship trophies in all divisions today bear the brother’s name and likeness.

Brownson’s time came during a decade in which New Orleans prep teams dominated the state playoffs. He left Jesuit following the Blue Jays’ back-to-back state titles in 1940 and 1941. Brechtel’s 1942 Eagles won the school’s last football championship to date. Jesuit repeated in 1943 and 1946, and Fortier in 1948.

But the Tigers were finding their own niche in the Prep League. They beat Easton for only the third time in 1943 and added demonstrative routs of 39-0 in 1944 and 45-6 in 1945, the year Brownson’s Tigers claimed their first state crown with a 9-0 record. A year-end tie with LaSalle of Rhode Island in the CYO Bowl was the only blemish on their record.

Memtsas became Easton’s head coach in 1946 following the end of the war. His teams posted winning records in eight of the next nine years, but had to settle for third place most of the time. It wasn’t until the Catholic and public schools formed their own districts in 1955 that Easton regained its control as a district champion through 1962.

During one of their “social sessions” together, the two coaches devised a June All-Star football game pitting players from Catholic and public schools whose teams used the T-formation offense  against those who ran their offenses from the single-wing. A crowd of 5,000 watched the 1953 game in City Park Stadium. The following year, the two coaches changed the format to pit the Catholic school’s senior graduates against their public school counterparts.

The summer diversion of football proved to be popular with prep followers and lucrative to the schools.

Despite being part of separate districts, Brownson and Memtsas vowed to maintain their rivalry, and,  although the Tigers were the masters now, having won 11 of the next 14 games through 1956 when Brownson left Holy Cross, the two schools continued to face each other through the 1967 season.

Easton played for its last football championship of that era in 1958. The only mark on its record was a 7-7 tie with Holy Cross. And, following a 22-20 loss to Lake Charles in the state championship game, Easton’s principal replaced Memtsas as head coach, citing health issues Hoss was experiencing.

Because of the bond between the schools’ coaches, Easton alumnus and assistant coach Billy Brinkman, who turned down the opportunity to replace Memtsas as the Eagles’ head coach, sent his three sons to Holy Cross, where they all played football.

The series came to an end when in 1968, the Catholic League became a nine-team district. The following year, the additions of Abramson and Kennedy swelled the public league into a 10-team district.

Now, Holy Cross and Easton will meet again although the two have little in common but a historical footnote.

Easton, now a Class 4A charter school, will also renew its rivalry with De La Salle on Sept. 5 at Gormley Stadium. The two have played five times between 1955-70. De La Salle was victorious in four of the clashes.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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