It’s rare that fans get to see a state record set right before their eyes.
But that’s exactly what happened 10 years ago, Sept. 27, 2003, when Bishop Hoban’s Gerry McGroarty, one the best kickers in the history of the WVC, booted a state-record, 64-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare in a 52-0 win over Bishop Hafey at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium.
The record still stands and remains among the longest field goals ever kicked at any level.
McGroarty, long-snapper Shayne McGrady and former Hoban head coach Dwayne Downing recently took time to recall that historic kick.
Setting the scene
The 2003 Argents were off to a 1-3 start and Bishop Hafey served as Hoban’s homecoming opponent that Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of people were there, my family and friends,” McGroarty said. “The coolest part of the whole day was that my grandfather, Daniel, who was 83 at the time, was there. That was probably one of the coolest parts of the whole day for me.”
As expected, Hoban was in control of the game and led 49-0 in the fourth quarter.
The final drive
The Argents began their last drive of the game on their own 20-yard line. A 29-yard run and a 4-yard run moved the ball into Hafey territory at the 47.
“I remember I was just standing there with my hands in my shoulder pads,” McGrady said. “We were near the 50, so I figured I could relax. I knew once we got inside the other team’s 40 that it was Gerry time. That is when I would just start thinking, ‘OK, let’s get ready.’ But we were near the 50. I wasn’t even taking it into consideration. It wasn’t like we were planning to do it or anything. I don’t know if somebody was nudging Coach Downing or something. I thought maybe (Downing) sort of got caught up in the moment.”
According to Downing, the plan was to punt. He figured there would be no harm in giving it back to Hafey late in the game.
But then, it all started.
A few of the assistant coaches told him to go for the field goal. Downing wasn’t sure. Then a few of the players told him to give McGroarty a shot. Finally, the decision was made and Downing sent in McGroarty.
“Gerry hit a few from 50 before,” Downing said. “We used to play a game with him at the end of practice. We would make him kick a long field goal and if he missed it we would have to run.
“I remember everyone saying to kick the field goal. I said, ‘Field goal? How long is it?’ I wasn’t sure. I knew it was far.”
Here comes the snap
There’s was no pressure on McGroarty. After all, kickers, especially in high school, aren’t supposed to make 64-yard field goals. In fact, the pros can’t even make field goals of that distance. The NFL record, shared by four players, is 63 yards.
In order for McGroarty to make it, everything had to be perfect – from the snap to the hold to the kick itself.
“We had done it a few times in practice from 60 but never in a game,” said McGrady, who is now a personal injury attorney with Cefalo and Associates. “I remember one of the kids on the line from Hafey told me he wasn’t even going to rush. We were in uncharted waters. It wasn’t like we were planning on it in the fourth quarter that Gerry was going to kick a field goal like this.”
The field-goal unit came out and McGrady headed to the line of scrimmage. The holder, Brad Chikanus, took his spot 7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage at the Bishop Hoban 46.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a long way here,'” McGrady said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘Don’t botch this snap. Don’t send it over his head.'”
From McGroarty’s perspective, everything was perfect.
“I knew where I was,” said McGroarty, who now works for Bayada Pediatrics. “The snap was perfect. The hold was perfect and the line did a great job protecting.”
And here’s the kick
McGroarty took his steps and then all that was audible was two thuds – McGroarty’s foot hitting the ball and the sound the ball made when it struck the wall beyond the end zone.
“When I kicked it, it was one of the cleanest hits I’ve had,” McGroarty said. “I knew when it came off my foot it had a chance.”
After he snapped the ball, McGrady stood up to block, but also became a spectator. He knew by the sound that McGroarty hit it well. How well? He really wasn’t sure.
“I snapped the ball and kept my head down and I saw Brad put the ball down,” McGrady said. “I saw Gerry take his stride and I picked my head up after that and the ball just kept going and going. It hit the base of the wall. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Then I look over and I see everybody jumping up and down and all the coaches had their arms in the air.”
Said Downing: “I knew he made good contact. It was just one of those surreal moments. I had no idea how long it was until after he made it. He would have made it from 70.”
The following night, McGroarty’s kick made the top 10 highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“I was blessed with a talent and I did the best I could with it,” said McGroarty, who was also an accomplished swimmer. “My family members, especially my dad, helped me keep my head on my shoulders and do the best I could. Before I started kicking, I was playing soccer my whole life and I knew I had some sort of leg. I kept working on it with Jeff Carlo and Jared Carlo and just fell in love with it.”
After graduating from Hoban, McGroarty went on to kick for the University of Buffalo. He remains involved in the kicking game, working with Special Teams Solutions throughout the East Coast. He holds kicking camps and works with kickers hoping to improve their skills.
This story was written for The Citizens’ Voice by Steve Bennett and it can be read here.