Albion to honor ’79 title team Friday

By Mike Wertman, Sports Writer Posted 2 October 2019 at 10:16 am

Contributed Photos – Dan Monacelli (46) picks up yardage during Albion’s narrow 13-12 win over Springville in the 1979 sectional championship game at Rich Stadium (now New Era Field).

Albion’s Homecoming festivities Friday will feature a special celebration marking the 40th anniversary of the Purple Eagles 1979 undefeated sectional champion football team.

It was one of the most memorable moments in Albion High’s long football history as the Purple Eagles capped off a perfect 9-0 season by scoring a thrilling 13-12 victory over Springville in the inaugural Section VI championships at Rich Stadium (now New Era Field).

That special achievement will be in the spotlight when the players and coaches from the team will be honored at the 7 p.m. game against Olean.

“It was just an unbelievable experience,” said Dan Monacelli who accounted for all 13 of Albion’s points and also made a clutch interception deep in Purple Eagles territory in the final minute to clinch the championship victory.

“Everybody on the team was so close,” added Monacelli. “Nobody really gave us a chance as our starting quarterback was out but we had some guys really step up. We just put it all together.”

“It was just a great group of kids, a hard working real old school team,” said Coach Dick Diminuco who was in his first season at the Purple Eagles varsity helm that fall. “We knew we had our hands full playing Springville as they had a very food team. That game was a thrill for me, for our school district and our community.”

Albion earned a berth in the sectional title contest by nipping host Newfane 14-8 in the second from last regular season game to lock up the Division VI title.

Quarterback Jim Benedetti accounted for both Albion touchdowns which came just before halftime. He hooked up with Monacelli on a 69 yard pass play for the first TD and then broke loose on a 48 yard run for what proved to be the game winning score.

It proved to be a costly win for the Purple Eagles though as Benedetti, who was also a starting linebacker on defense, suffered a knee injury and was out for the rest of the season.

However, as Monacelli notes, the Purple Eagles “had guys step up” with the main one being Jeff Klips who took over the key quarterback position. He led the Purple Eagles to a 27-12 win over Trott in the regular season finale and then to the title game victory at Rich Stadium.

The Purple Eagles had to rally from deficits of 6-0 and 12-6 to claim the sectional title.

Albion Coach Dick Diminuco talks with Monacelli.

Albion pulled even at 6-6 with 4:32 to go in the first half on a 3 yard touchdown run by Monacelli capping a 67 yard drive which was highlighted by runs of 20 and 12 yards by Dennis Massey.

Springville though answered right back with a 29 yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Nugent  to Tony Baker regaining a 12-6 lead for the Griffins at half-time.

That set the stage for Albion’s dramatic game winning touchdown play in the third quarter which Diminuco and Monacelli both vividly recall.

On the play Monacelli, running a fly pattern up the sideline, hauled in a perfect pass from Klips at midfield without breaking stride and outraced the surprised Springville secondary all the way to the end zone to complete the huge 78 yard touchdown play.

“During a timeout Danny came up to me and said coach I can beat him deep,” said Diminuco of the decisive play call.

“Coach said OK you did the talking part now get the walking part done,” said Monacelli.

“And sure enough he did it,” said Diminuco of the decisive TD pass play. “That’s one of the things I remember most about the game.”

Monacelli then kicked what proved to be the deceive extra point for a 13-12 Albion lead.

Springville did mount one last ditch scoring threat but Monacelli came up with a huge interception at the Albion 11 yard line with just 46 seconds remaining in the game to lock up the victory.

A caravan of 25 bus loads of Purple Eagles fans savored the victory at the stadium and upon the team’s return to Albion they were met by a parade led by firetrucks and then a huge welcoming crowd when they reached the school.

“When we got to the parking lot at the school there was just a huge crowd,” recalls Monacelli. “We literally had to go through a tunnel of people to get back to the locker room. The whole day was just an unbelievable experience. It was the best year of my life.”

“It’s going to be fun Friday getting everybody back together,” said Diminuco. “I’m glad they’re doing it.”

“It’s good to see the guys coming back,” added Monacelli. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Members of the ’79 team will meet with this year’s squad in the locker room before the game and then be introduced during half-time ceremonies.

Larry Warren picks up good yardage for the Purple Eagles.