Cardinals coached by Joe Zeno for 15 great years in the 60s and 70s
By Joe Jauregui
Published: September 01, 2004
By Joe Jauregui
Last in a Series
The Zeno Years
Joe Zeno arrived in Santa Paula in 1961 and coached the Cardinals for 15 years, the longest tenure of any Cardinal Varsity Football Coach. Zeno introduced the Wing-T formation to the Cardinal fans in 1961. During this period the Cardinals appeared in 10 post season games compiling a 5-5 record. The 1963 and 1972 squads earned the distinction of being the only Cardinal teams to play in 3 CIF playoff games in one season. The 1967 team holds the unofficial record for attendance when over 6,000 fans packed a rain soaked Houser Field in Oxnard to see Santa Paula and Santa Clara play for the league title. One of the most exciting games of the era occurred in 1972, when the Cardinals literally lost by inches when a controversial call denied the Cardinals a 2 point conversion in a 13-12 defeat in the CIF semi-final game against Neff High School
The 1967 Season
Injuries and a rain soaked gridiron played a big part in the 1967 season when the Cardinals earned the runner-up spot in the Frontier League . The season came down to the last game when Santa Paula played Santa Clara for the league title. Santa Clara was undefeated and favored to take the title. Santa Paula came into the game with a 7-1 season record their only loss being to “AAA” power, Crespi High School.
Over 6,000 fans packed Houser Field for the title game. The Cardinals held on to a 7-6 lead going into the second half but the combination of heavy rains, a touchdown called back, a personal foul against the Cardinals, and a punt return for a touchdown for the Saints turned the game around and the Cardinalís hope for a “AA” CIF Championship went down the drain.
Eleven Cardinals received All-Frontier League Honors on the ‘67 Squad. They included Henry Jacinto, Bob Gonzales, Gary Light, Gil Lopez, Tony Prado , John Montes (MVP), Gary Lindsay, Mike Dyer, Eddie Guess, Rick Parham, and Tom Cole. Tom Cole earned Prep All-American honors and was named one of the top 100 high school players in the nation.
The 1972 Season
The 1972 Cardinals started off the season by losing 3 of their 4 pre-league games. When league play began, the team pulled together and earned the Frontier League title with a 5-0 record. The Cardinals defeated St. Bernard and Miraleste by identical 14-13 margins to earn a berth in the CIF semi-final game.
Cardinal fans will remember the game in Norwalk with Neff High School as one of the more controversial in Cardinal gridiron history. After trailing 13-6 in the 3rd quarter, the Cardinal’s Robert Prado, behind the blocking of Steve Lister, scored to trim the margin to 13-12. The Cardinal’s hopes for a third consecutive 14-13 playoff victory were dashed when Albert Pinedaís apparently successful two-point conversion attempt was nullified by the referee.
Al Pineda, Robert Prado, Mike Rairdan, Rudy Torres, and Kirk Neiderhaus earned all-league honors. Torres and Neiderhaus also earned All- CIF honors.
Santa Paula Cardinals who earned CIF honors during the Zeno Years were Dick Botke (‘62),
Steve Onstot (‘63), Billy Horner (‘69), Tony Pineda (‘69), Cisco Dock (‘70), Bill Geroge (‘71). In addition to Tom Cole in 1967, Billy Horner and George Keefe earned Prep All-American Awards in 1969.