The stories vary depending on who is narrating. Some remember the specific plays that transpired on the football field during that historic November night in 1961. Others remember the stunned aftermath. The ones with the brightest memories can name the opposing players.

What undoubtedly comes to the forefront of each conversation, though, is the utter dominance of the Lake Washington football program when it reeled off a 51-game unbeaten streak that spanned from 1956 to 1961.

The streak is a state record that has remained untouched for 52 years. But after more than half a century, the Bellevue football team can eclipse that mark and write its name next to yet another record if it beats Peninsula this weekend in the 3A state quarterfinals.

The Nov. 3, 1961, loss to Mercer Island was the only defeat Lake Washington suffered that season, as the Kangs finished 7-1-1. In fact, the dominance continued even after the 51-game streak ended. In 99 games from 1956-65, Lake Washington lost just four times.

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“It was the system, the coaching and the demand of conditioning,” said Dennis Green, a senior quarterback on the 1961 Lake Washington team. “The demand of, if they thought you had a thought with the word loss in it, lose, you were doing pushups. It did not exist. It was a mental set that the coaches instilled in us and they conditioned us and they worked us. We just knew we were going to win. We knew we would win that Mercer Island game that we wound up losing by one point.”

The coach for all but the final season of the 51-game streak was Bill McLaughlin, who built an organizational structure not unlike that of baseball’s farm system. A variation of the wing-T offense was implemented in the youth teams. The system remained the same as the players got older, but additional plays were introduced, adding to the offensive complexity.

The Lake Washington teams that the seniors on the 1961 squad were a part of were so dominant that, in ninth grade, they outscored their opponents 256-0, lineman Paul Taylor recalls. The run game was so successful, the team could count on 3 to 4 yards a carry and would march down the field, methodically controlling the clock.

McLaughlin, who retired after his son graduated in 1961, went 61-9-4 as the Lake Washington head coach from 1952 to 1960. He was so revered that many players believe the record would have been extended had he not retired.

“Absolutely, unequivocally, yes, oh yeah,” Taylor said without hesitation. “We had a tough time all through our senior year. And I loved [new head coach Jim] Jolgen. I mean, Jolgen was like my dad. So I have nothing but good things to say about Jolgen. But it was an all-new coaching staff and they were trying to maintain as many of the plays and ways of [McLaughlin], but a lot changed that year. It just took a year to wrinkle it out.”

The similarities between the dominant Lake Washington teams and those at Bellevue are striking.

“Our playbook and Bellevue’s playbook are close to identical,” said Taylor, whose grandson, Jake Eldrenkamp, played for the Wolverines before signing with Washington.

The way that Bellevue players learn the offensive system years before they begin high school is also a commonality.

But there’s also a shared belief that Bellevue’s current run of dominance is more impressive. There are multiple reasons for this school of thought. For starters, the Wolverines have not played to a tie, something Lake Washington did three times. Bellevue also competes in the playoffs. When the Kangs were a powerhouse, the only nonleague game was the occasional postseason Turkey Day Game.

“I have never seen a team that’s any better, as far as a high-school game,” Green said. “They’d kill us. They are just so disciplined and they know the system and they’re conditioned. It’s pretty remarkable.”

Comparing streaks
After losing the first game of the 1956 season, Lake Washington ran off a 51-game unbeaten streak that went into the 1961 season. The streak is a state record that is on the verge of being broken by Bellevue, which faces Peninsula this weekend in the 3A state quarterfinals. A look at the team’s records during their streaks.
Lake Washington Bellevue
1956: 7-1-1 2010: 13-1
1957: 9-0 2011: 14-0
1958: 9-0 2012: 14-0
1959: 8-0-1 2013: 11-0
1960: 9-0
1961: 7-1-1