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Bison champions

A front page story in the October 31, 1974, Hot Springs Star proclaims the Hot Springs Bison football team as the top team in the South Dakota Class “B” football poll.

Brett Nachtigall/Hot Springs Star 

1974 team earned Class ‘B’ championship based on Argus Leader ranking system

HOT SPRINGS – Before high school state football titles in South Dakota began being decided by a playoff system in 1981, statewide bragging rights were determined by a poll of sports writers at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper.

And 40 years ago, in 1974, it was the Hot Springs Bison who stood alone at the top of the Class “B” rankings following an impressive 9-0 undefeated season, under the leadership of then head coach Larry Ireland. To this day, it is the only state football title Hot Springs High School has ever earned.

“We won a lot of games by the skin of our teeth,” recalled Hot Springs resident Don Olstad, who was a senior wide receiver/cornerback on the 1974 team.

A look at their nine wins on the season shows three victories which were decided by three points or less (Lead, Belle Fourche and Sturgis), and another versus Douglas that was a six-point win.

Quite a few other games however were blowouts, including a 44-0 win over cross-county rival Edgemont in the opening game of the season. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises on the year, according to Olstad, was a 48-6 blowout of Class “A” Spearfish during Hot Springs’ homecoming game, when both teams entered that fifth game of the season undefeated.

The final statewide rankings came down to the last game of the year, Olstad said.

Garretson had been ranked ahead of Hot Springs throughout much of the season. But when they (Garretson) lost its final game and the Bison defeated Bennett County by a score of 16-4, it made the voter’s decision easy at the Argus Leader to propel Hot Springs to that No. 1 position.

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“We fell behind 4-0 in that game, by two safeties, when our center hiked the ball over our punter’s head twice,” Olstad said.

His memories of those events are confirmed by a report in the Oct. 31, 1974, Hot Springs Star, which said:

“The game changed after that. Hot Springs got its ground game rolling, drove to the Bennett County one yard line and (Rick) Wass went over from there. The PAT was good on a (Carlos) Cornay pass to (Larry) Baumberger and the Bison were ahead 8-4.”

Aside from fellow senior Rick Wass, who went on to have a Hall of Fame-worthy college football career at the South Dakota School of Mines, Olstad said that there was not any one single member of the team that stood out as “exceptional.”

“We were just solid players, who were smart and had good coaching,” he said. “A lot of us played both ways (offense and defense). For some, if it wouldn’t have been for football, they would have been out of school. Everything just came together that season. The stars just kind of aligned.”

The team’s quarterback, Carlos Cornay, was just a sophomore that season, which Olstad said was unusual for a team to be led by someone so young. Cornay, and other sophomores like Paul Oberpriller and Quentin Hofer, would go on to have continued success under Coach Ireland in the years to come, including an 8-1 record and another Black Hills Conference title in 1976. Cornay still holds many of the school’s passing records, including 3,274 career passing yards and 25 career touchdown passes.

Ireland spent just four seasons at the helm in Hot Springs (1973-76), where he earned an overall record of 29-7. He was succeeded by Gary Glenn in 1977.

Olstad gave credit for much of the team’s success to Coach Ireland, who he said “was the right guy at the right time. He was a helluva motivator.”

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