WEIRTON - There undoubtedly will be a lot of stories flying around Jimmy Carey Stadium tonight before, during and after Weir High hosts Edison on the gridiron as the school's 1973 state runner-up state championship team celebrates its 40th anniversary.
The Red Riders were 10-2 that season and won the OVAC Class 3A title.
It was the year that all-state quarterback Kevin Miller tore up a knee in the final minute of the last game of the season. That meant the Riders went into the four-team playoffs with backup signal caller Eric Frankovitch directing the offense after playing linebacker most of the previous two seasons.
"I believe Kevin went down in the last 30 seconds of our last game against Youngstown South," said starting center Robbie Kerr, who now lives in Steubenville and works as a foreman in the environmental and utilities electrical department at Mittal Steel.
"It was a big change having Frankovitch at quarterback. For the playoffs, we switched from a predominantly running team to a passing team. Miller had been our runner and Frankovitch was our passer."
Frankovitch, a Weirton attorney, whose youngest son, John, currently is the tight end and linebacker for the Red Riders, remembers that the state championship game against East Bank was played on a rainy day.
"We won the statistical battle, but we lost the game on a fake field goal," said Frankovitch, who has had four sons play football at Weir High.
"I played quarterback in junior high and on the reserve team as a freshman and sophomore, but primarily played linebacker my junior and senior years."
Frankovitch, who also is president of the Weir High football boosters this year, said about 15 members of the 1973 team have indicated they can attend tonight.
He said the plans are to have a reception for them before the game, recognize them on the field between the first and second quarters of the game and have a gathering at the Serbian-American Cultural Center following the game.
"We have that gathering after every home game and everyone is invited to attend," Frankovitch said. "In fact, I encourage all Weir High fans to attend this one. There is a nominal fee of $10 per person and attendees can eat and drink all they want."
Miller, who now lives and works in Wheeling, has a son, Bryce, who is a star running back for Wheeling Park High School.
"It so happens that Park has its open date this week, so I'm excited about being there," he said.
Miller went on to star as a wide receiver at the University of Louisville, going to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., his senior season, and then played four years as a kick return specialist in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.
The 1973 Red Riders were coached by the late George Kovalick and one of Kerr's deepest memories was hugging his coach at midfield when Weir High beat Brooke 50-20. Those 50 points held up for a number of years as the most ever given up by a Brooke football team.
"One of the reasons that game touched me so much is because my brother played on the 1971 Weir High team that lost by one point to Brooke (20-19) knocking them out of a spot in the playoffs," Kerr said. "It was that feeling of getting revenge."
Passing heroics twice kept the '73 Red Riders in championship contention. In Game 5, Miller launched a 38-yard TD bomb to wide receiver Frank Jeter at the final horn to squeeze by John Marshall, 15-8.
The Red Riders squeaked into the playoffs as the fourth seed and Kerr remembers cruising around Weirton in his car and hearing over the car radio on WEIR that a team Weir High was vying with for the fourth spot lost.
"I remember the announcer saying that we (Weir High) made it to the playoffs, and I was so excited," Kerr said.
In the semifinal against top seeded and heavily favored Fairmont West, Frankovitch lifted an 11-yard aerial to Jeter with 17 seconds left in the game for a 26-20 upset. Frankovitch had scored on two TD plunges and a two-point conversion, and directed the game-winning 80-yard drive in less than 60 seconds. Fullback Ed Nemeth rushed for 182 yards in the game including a 40-yard TD run.
A week later, Weir High led East Bank in total offense 232-217 and first downs 14-12, but the Riders found the East Bank end zone impenetrable, although there was a controversial call that, if it had gone the other way, would have given the Riders a score and the possible momentum swing.
During the '73 season, the scrambling Miller rushed for 13 touchdowns and threw for five more, all to Jeter. Nemeth and Marvin Brown also sparkled in the Weir High backfield. Brown's 218 yards against Oak Glen was the top rushing effort of the season. Miller, Nemeth and Brown each went over 100 yards rushing in the win over Brooke.
In addition to Kerr, the offensive line included Mike Kovalick (son of the coach) and Mitch Mankosa (who later played at Army) at the tackles, Alan Selip and Jeff Eloi at the guards and Kerr at center. Bruce Gallagher was the tight end.
Frankovitch and Jeter earned first team all-state honors in 1973. Frankovitch went to Wake Forest on a football scholarship and Jeter went to the University of Cincinnati. That same year, Frankovitch and Kovalick captured state wrestling championships.