When St. Francis High beat De La Salle 31-28 on Sept. 10, ending a “north of Fresno” winning streak of 318 games for the Spartans, it triggered a memory for me.
The year was 1987 and I was in my third year as a prep sportswriter when the North Coast Section championship game featured De La Salle taking on Monte Vista at the then-Oakland Coliseum.
The Spartans had a 44-game winning streak and had beaten the Mustangs 24-7 in the 1986 NCS finals.
It was a rematch where not a lot of people outside of the MV program gave the Mustangs a chance. But Monte Vista rallied together, fought through a tough game, and came away with the epic 14-13 win.
It was a win for the ages and a game still talked in the Danville and Alamo areas today.
“I was in (Danville) not that long ago and was walking through a restaurant,” said 1987 MV quarterback Stewart Hansen, now a resident of Montana. “I saw Jim Hinckley (a 1987 DLS player) and he introduced me to his wife as ‘the quarterback that beat us in that championship game’. Not my name, but that quarterback.”
Shad Hansen – no relation to Stewart – was a crunching linebacker/offensive lineman for the '87 team and remembered the loss in 1986 serving as a big motivation for the next season.
“I remember the prior game as well,” said Shad of the 1986 matchup. “They were talking Goliath vs. Goliath going into that game and they got us. We came into the 1987 season knowing that we were better than them.”
“We weren’t intimidated by De La Salle,” said Stewart, the co-founder and President of EverLog Systems in Missoula, Montana. “I remembered that we didn’t feel we were over-powered in 1986. We were a very confident group, and we were talented.”
They had every reason to feel that way. In all, nine members for that Monte Vista team went on to play in college.
Those were: Stewart Hansen (QB- Utah State/Utah), Kristian Hansen (QB- Oregon), Shad Hansen (OG/LB- Air Force Academy Prep/BYU), Schon Branum (FB/DE- Air Force Academy Prep), Steve Abrams (RB/FS- Utah), Chris Swartz (WR/FS- Indiana), Trent Strickland (WB/CB- Idaho), Dave Zeising (OT- San Jose State), and Grant Steunenberg (FB/LB- San Jose State).
In addition, the architect of the Mustangs was the iconic Monte Vista coach Rob Stockberger.
“We were blessed to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people,” said Stockberger of his staff and players.
Among the staff members were the legendary Monte Vista coach George Cockerton, Tom Ladouceur (the brother of DLS coach Bob), Richard Jones, Mike Maxwell, Jay Martinovich, and Craig Condon.
“Those guys, those coaches, had such an impact on our lives,” said Stewart. “The friendships, teamwork aspect – all the stuff they provided us.”
It was a very tight knit group of coaches at both schools.
“Bob and I roomed together for a year at San Jose State for a semester,” said Stockberger of the Spartans coach. “Bob was coaching with us at Monte Vista when he got the De La Salle job.”
The closeness of the staffs meant a healthy dose of respect between teams, something not lost on the players.
Shad also remembered the level of respect the players had for each other. There were De La Salle players that lived in the Danville/Alamo area and grew up playing youth football together.
“Back then there was no trash talking – at least with the players,” said Shad. “The parents, sure, but not the players.”
Every player on both teams knew it was going to be a battle from start to finish.
“We knew how tough that game was going to be,” said Shad, now the Senior VP of Retail Field Sales and Latin America for Milwaukee Tools. “I just remember being exhausted at the end of the game.”
The game was low-scoring but still edge-of-your-seat exciting as you knew at any time the play would come that swung the game.
At halftime, Cockerton talked to the team and drew reference to the “trash talking," between parents.
“He talked about how the son of another MV coach had run into one of the De La Salle parents,” said Shad. “(Coach) said that parent had told him that De La Salle was going to kick our (rear-ends). That got us going.”
Monte Vista trailed 7-6 with 7:51 left in the game and faced a fourth-and-7 from the Spartan 39. After lining up to punt, the Mustangs pulled off a fake punt/trick play that resulted with Chris Musseman (now the head coach at Ripon High School) racing the 39 yards into the end zone.
Now sitting at 12-7, Monte Vista coach Rob Stockberger opted to go for two points using, you guessed it, a trick play. Backup quarterback Kristian Hansen (also no relation to either Stewart or Shad) came in motion and took the ball for what appeared to be a sweep to the right.
After about five strides he stopped and threw back to a wide open Stewart Hansen in the end zone and Monte Vista had the 14-7 lead.
De La Salle scored to cut it to 14-13 and opted to go for two points and the win.
Spartans running back Rob Forrester went for the left endzone pylon where he was met by Steve Abrams of Monte Vista right at the goal line.
There was a big collision with the officials ruling the conversion attempt had been stopped. Monte Vista recovered the on-side kick, and the game was history.
Talk to someone from Monte Vista and they will say no way Forrester got in, while any one from DLS says he made it.
“There’s a topic that will be an endless debate,” said Stewart Hansen of if Forrester got into the end zone. “It’s split right along party lines, depending on who you talk to.”
Shad has not watched the replay of the conversion, but knows it is still much talked about.
“Are you kidding me – everyone still talks about it,” said Shad of the two-point conversion attempt. “I don’t want to watch it – I don’t want the sideline view in my head. I watch every play in that game except that one. I won’t show it to my kids.”
In the years following the game, the two teams grew closer together.
“We all started hanging out together once we got to college when we were home for the summer,” said Shad. “It was kind of neat.
As mentioned before, many of the players were on the same youth football teams, and in one case were teammates at Monte Vista.
Kirk Pulver spent his first two years at Monte Vista before transferring to De La Salle. Pulver has twice brought the former players of Monte Vista and De La Salle together in the last two years.
First was last year when players from both teams celebrated Pulver’s 50th birthday via a Zoom call. The second was earlier this year when Pulver passed away from ALS.
Stockberger points to the Celebration of Life for Pulver as to how special both teams were, and for that matter, still are.
“The kids all rallied around Kirk’s passing,” said Stockberger. “The memorial celebration had players from De La Salle, Monte Vista, and St. Mary’s rugby. Those people are part of the reason why that game and those teams will always be remembered.”
Shad looks back at the Zoom call as a great time, as well as a chance to roast the Spartans about recruiting allegations that have dogged the program.
“One of the De La Salle players on the call said he could remember Pulver’s first visit to the campus,” said Shad. “We went nuts and started yelling about ‘not getting visits,’ when you are in high school. I remember coach saying, 'I hope someone is taping this – maybe we can (ask) NCS to invalidate that 1986 game’.”
While there will always be a much-talked-about debate about how the game ended, one other thing is certain – the 1987 team was a very special moment in time for Stockberger – relating to both teams.
“That game, those teams, those kids – they will never go away in so many different ways,” said Stockberger, once again, reflecting on what many still call the golden age of prep football in the area.
Editor's note: The 1987 Monte Vista Football Highlight Video, still available on YouTube was an “ahead of its time” production capturing every game (put to music), interviews with coaches and an iconic Oakland Coliseum halftime speech delivered by Defensive Coordinator George Cockerton.