Remembering when Turks ruled the turf

As it happens with many legends, one of the big ones surrounding Sultan’s 1972 undefeated football team is part truth and part embellishment.

It goes like this:

After finishing the season unbeaten and really unchallenged, the Sultan football team didn’t have a chance to prove it was the best because Washington state had yet to create a playoff system. So, Sultan principal George Carberry reached out to the other undefeated team in Class A in Washington, Omak, and extended an offer to play a “championship” game on a neutral site.

The legend goes that Omak deferred and decided to take on Cle Elum out of fear for the Turks.

Of course some people think that’s a bunch of bunk, including Randy Carberry, the star player on that Sultan team and the son of the school’s late principal.

“I think (Omak) would have gladly played us,” Randy Carberry said on Thursday. “They had guys like (future Seahawk) Don McCormack*, so I don’t think they were too afraid to play.”

Tonight, Carberry and the rest of his teammates and most of the coaching staff from that 1972 team will celebrate the 40th anniversary of their unbeaten season at halftime of the Sultan-Cedarcrest football game. The brainchild of Sultan athletic director Scott Sifferman, tonight’s celebration is a way to remember the last Turks team to finish a season unbeaten.

“This was a team that came together and pushed each other,” Sifferman said. “They weren’t just great athletes but great teammates. They practiced as hard on Monday afternoon as they played on Friday.”

It isn’t a stretch to think teams from around the state were genuinely afraid of the Turks. Sultan went 9-0 and outscored opponents 393-44 and had four shutouts. In the season opener, Sultan, then a 1A team, shut out Tahoma, a 2A team, 52-0 and ended the season by defeating Tolt 42-6. Randy Carberry said that Coupeville, which the Turks beat 42-6, had its head coach write a letter to the Sultan coaches thanking them for not running up the score. Langely, which Sultan beat 76-0, wasn’t as appreciative.

“There was a lot of people complaining after that one,” Carberry said.

Randy Carberry was the undisputed star of the 1972 Turks team. He led the team in almost every offensive category and nearly set the Washington state season-scoring record in the final game. Carberry scored three touchdowns in the season finale against Tolt to finish the season with 31 touchdowns and 31 PATs, leaving him one point shy of the then-scoring record of 218 points.

Many people in Sultan still believe that Carberry should have broken the record. The senior fullback had two touchdowns called back against Tolt because of questionable infractions. One was so egregious that Carberry said he still hears from one of the referees in the game about the call.

“One referee whenever he sees me still says ‘I tried to get that young ref to pick up the flag,’” Carberry said of one clipping call in particular.

The team’s coach, Ed Alsman, didn’t have a lot of experience before taking over the Turks, having just coached youths at the Pop Warner level. But that didn’t seem to matter to the Carberry and other Sultan players like Dave Lempke and Mike Gray. Returning almost every player from the previous year’s team, the Turks had 11 guys who started as sophomores, including Lempke, a burly lineman that eventually went on to play at Washington State.

“We were a cohesive unit. We were also very motivated — even in the offseason,” said Carberry, who now lives in Monroe and works at the Monroe Correctional Facility. “We ran sprints over the summer and worked out and because of that we were in much better shape than any team we ever faced.”

But Carberry was quick to give his coach credit as well.

“He was the perfect coach for us,” Carberry said. “He always knew the right thing, whether you needed a kick in the butt or not. He didn’t put up with a lot of (guff).”

Alsman, who will be at tonight’s game, catapulted from Sultan to San Jose State a few years later and then the NFL, joining Chuck Knox’s Los Angeles Rams and later the 49ers. He eventually landed in the CFL in Calgary and now lives in Arizona.

Gray was the team’s quarterback and was one of the leaders on the team despite being a junior. Carberry said that Gray would script out the first three series of the game and called nearly the entire game himself.

“He would always go over and plan out the first part of the game and have a plan like ‘If this happens, then we’ll do this,’” Carberry said.

His football career helped prepare Gray for his job later in life. He now calculates probabilities as an insurance company actuary.

The year after Sultan’s undefeated campaign, the Turks, despite losing a dozen players to graduation, advanced to the quarterfinals of the inaugural Washington state football playoffs, losing to Castle Rock.

“Sultan football was a big deal back then,” Carberry said. “The stands were always packed.”

The stands will likely be packed again tonight when Carberry and the rest of the Turks take the field once again.

*Correction, Sept. 14, 2012: This article originally used an incorrect name for Don McCormack.

White Out to Fight Hunger Night

Along with celebrating the 1972 unbeaten football team, Sultan will also be holding its third annual White Out to Fight Hunger Night for its game against Cedarcrest tonight. The first 300 fans to bring nonperishable food will receive a Sultan Turks White Out 2012 T-shirt. Collected food will go to the Sky Valley Food Bank. Last year they collected 2,133 pounds of food.

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