FIRE BREATHERS EPISODE 1
On October 20th, 1989, an undefeated and highly touted Conemaugh Valley team made the trip to Purchase Line, to take on the 5-2 Red Dragons. A raucous standing room only crowd gathered on that cool evening and when they filed out of Barry T. Madill stadium, they had witnessed a record breaking performance and one of the greatest victories in Purchase Line’s football history.
The Red Dragon Defense held the Blue Jays high powered offense to just 67 total yards en-route to a 14-0 shutout victory. But the story was Junior Safety Eric Bernatzky. The Saturday Indiana Gazette Headline would read, “Bernatzky steals thunder from PL football fiesta.” Bernatzky had intercepted 5 of Conemaugh Valley’s eight passing attempts during that game. To put that in perspective, the sports writer stated, only 10 players in the past 15 years (since 1985), in the Gazetteland area, have intercepted 5 passes all season. “He’s a great player for us,” said Purchase Line Head Coach Ed Dalton. “He’s the typical overachiever, a hard worker. He’s just one of those kids that’s there all summer long, A very good athlete.”
The record setting game, propelled Bernatzky to a County leading 9 interception season in 1989, and the Red Dragons to a 7-2 record. Bernatzky would go on to tally 6 more picks in 1990, during a 13-1, District 6 AA championship season. For all of his 17 career (1988-90) interceptions, Bernatzky may have been more known for his physical play. If it moved, he hit it, and when he hit it, he tried to send a message. The highlight reels from that era, show countless punishing tackles from number 11, and he set the tone for what may have been the most physical defense ever assembled in Indiana County High School Football.
Bernatzky was a 2 time third team All State Selection (89-90), 1st Team All Appalachian Conference and Indiana Gazette selection, Defensive MVP SAFCA, and went on to earn MVP honors for his play in the Mid-State All-Star Football Classic. He went on to coach 3 years at his Alma Mater, and then spent 11 years coaching at Mt. Vernon High School, in Alexandria, VA. He currently resides in Warrenton, VA, and is in his 17th year of teaching elementary Physical Education, 15 years at Brookfield Elementary, Fairfax County. He is married to wife Pam and has two children, Carter and Brynleigh.
“You know I have coached for many years and after every season I have a hard time remembering what we did, but I can remember our Junior and Senior seasons at PL, like we played them yesterday.” Bernatzky stated. When asked how he would describe his football experience at PL, Bernatzky simply said, “Great Times.”
Eric Bernatzky took his passion for football and outworked everyone else to become one of the most respected defensive backs in our area. He took that work ethic and attempted to instill it in hundreds of kids as a coach and educator. Eric Bernatzky is a Fire Breather.