Not many Lorain County football fans know that Elyria Catholic’s 1976 state championship — the county’s first — came as no surprise to senior quarterback Briant McLaughlin. Like legendary New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, McLaughlin and his teammates called their shot during an 0-10 sophomore season.
“It happened after our homecoming game against Parma Byzantine, where we got beat 52-0,” McLaughlin said. “The players had a meeting and we told the coaching staff that we were going to win the state title our senior year.”
For his football accomplishments, McLaughlin will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night along with Brooke Bader, Ken Fenik, Adam Larrick, Jan Sito and the 1972-73 Elyria and Elyria Catholic boys basketball teams.
The late Cooper Hudnutt will also be honored with the Distinguished Service Award.
Not many who played through the Panthers’ miserable 1974 season — that featured losses to Midview (47-0), Lake Catholic (42-0) and Clearview (32-6) — have fond memories of the lopsided loss to the Buccaneers.
“I’ve been in bar fights throughout the years but I’ve never got my butt kicked like that night,” linebacker Ken Machock said. “There were a lot of stories about that 0-10 season, and not many of them are good. But I don’t think we were as bad as our record showed, and it took people like Briant McLaughlin to turn it around.”
Elyria Catholic added a sophomore superstar running back named Bryan Thomas in 1975 and the Panthers improved to 7-2 and 3-1 in the North Central Conference. Building excitement for the 1976 season was quickly tempered when head coach Mike Noonan unexpectedly left the program.
Elyria Catholic hired Lake Catholic assistant Jim Rattay a week before practices began.
“We had a group of tremendous players sitting there and Briant was the leader,” Rattay said. “I needed that one player that was going to be able to learn the new offense and new defense that we were putting in, and that was Briant. He was the glue, the guy that kept the team together.”
The Panthers rolled through three solid victories before meeting up with the Cougars — Rattay’s former team — in the NCC opener in Week 4. Lake Catholic came away with a 20-7 win.
“That was the turning point … a wake-up call,” McLaughlin said. “It was probably one of the more memorable moments from that season, even though we unfortunately got beat.”
Elyria Catholic certainly woke up, winning the next seven games to claim the Class AA state title. The Panthers downed previously unbeaten Huron 14-0 at Baldwin-Wallace in the state semifinals, then handed Brookville a 34-10 defeat in the final at the Rubber Bowl in Akron.
“I had a couple interceptions (at free safety) in that state championship game,” McLaughlin said.
Rattay, however, said the senior had five interceptions in the two state playoff games.
McLauglin, who began playing CYO football for St. Mary’s in the fifth grade, seems to hang his hat on his defensive skills — he played four years at Ashland College, leading the Heartland Conference with 13 interceptions his senior season. He’s still No. 4 on the Eagles’ career interception list.
But he was lauded for his role as the Panthers quarterback and landed on the All-Ohio second team for his dual-role performance.
“Everyone remembers me as the quarterback, but I wasn’t very good,” McLaughlin said. “I had Bryan Thomas in the backfield and my main job was to turn around and hand the ball off to him.
“I didn’t throw a lot. I didn’t have to … especially in that era. I probably didn’t have 400 yards passing my senior year.”
“Every yard must have went to me then,” said tight end Jim Machovina, who remembered McLaughlin being a little more productive with his arm. “He was a good athlete, but a fantastic person. His true worth to our team was as a leader. He was the team captain, and he showed that in every huddle, on the field and in everything he did.
“He was able to make the bad days good.”
It was the leadership abilities that left a lasting effect on those who surrounded McLaughlin during that championship season. Dozens of positive adjectives were used to describe him, including “mature” and “remarkable” by his former coach.
“Everyone respected him because he was relatable — you knew he was going to give 100 percent, so you were going to give 100 percent,” said Rattay, who said McLaughlin’s teammates gave him the nickname Dog Dish. “He’s one of the few kids in my 41 years of coaching that I still keep in contact with, so that tells you a lot about what he meant to me.”
It will be McLaughlin’s second trip to the Hall, as the 1976 Panthers team was inducted in 1990. He may still be joined by other individuals from the title team — Thomas was inducted in 1988 and Rattay in 1992 — and may share the Hall with daughter Brianne, an Elyria Catholic hockey standout who won a silver medal as a goalie for the U.S. during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“It’s a really good story,” McLaughlin said of his high school career. “We didn’t know about computer points. Goal setting? We didn’t know about that … but we did that. We decided that we wanted to win a state championship and then we went out and did it.
“It was an awesome experience.”
- WHAT: 42nd Elyria Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet
- WHEN: Saturday
- WHERE: Spitzer Center, LCCC
- TICKETS: Sold out