It may be just Week 3 of the high school football season, but for two local teams that are separated by just a 7-mile stretch of highway and a county line, Week 3 means a little something extra.
That’s because tonight marks the fifth installment of the annual rivalry game between the Live Oak Lions and the Gridley Bulldogs. However, the two teams have a history that stretches well beyond just five years ago, although it is unknown when exactly the rivalry began.
Even though this is a non-conference game, what makes it so significant—besides the close proximity of the schools—is the many connections between the two teams.
Many of the players grew up together. A number have even worn the same uniform while playing at the youth level. Some have even continued their friendships to this day—that is, until kickoff when they’ll put that friendship aside.
Even both teams’ head coaches have connections to this game. Lions’ head coach Dan Johnson played football for the Bulldogs and graduated from Gridley High, as did the Bulldogs’ head coach John Cooprider and Live Oak High's Principal/former coach Tony Walton.
Aside from the individuals that make up the staff and players of the current teams, the history between the programs stretches back quite some time. The Bulldogs and Lions regularly went to war in Northern Section postseason during the 1990s, and in 1993, the Bulldogs and the Lions went to battle for the NSCIF crown with Live Oak coming out on top by a score of 42-6.
Unfortunately, for Gridley this has been the norm when the two teams face off. In the past 10 meetings, the Lions have come out the victors eight times. Gridley’s last victory over Live Oak was in the 2004 campaign, where the Bulldogs pulled out a 28-18 win. The year before that, at the 2003 Gridley High School Homecoming game, the Bulldogs put on one of their better performances in rivalry history with a 40-12 victory over the Lions.
In 2009, in an effort to bring the two communities together, administrators from both schools teamed up to rekindle the old rivalry—dubbing the county border battle the “Harvest Bowl” in honor of both communities’’ strong ties to agriculture.
The winner of the Harvest Bowl—aside from having bragging rights for the next year—takes home a perpetual trophy along with the "Golden Reaper," a sickle found in a barn by Live Oak 's Principal Walton, which is painted with the two schools' colors.
If Bulldogs want 2013 to be the year they finally claim the Reaper, they need to find a way to shut down Live Oak running back Matt Evans who has five TDs on the season. The Lions (2-1) enter the game coming off a 31-20 victory over the Lindhurst Blazers. Live Oak lost to Marysville in Week 2 after the Indians scored 26 unanswered points.
Page 2 of 2 - Although the Bulldogs are entering the game without a win since the 2011 season, they have a number of offensive weapons. Quarterback Emery Haddy has the talent and experience to lead the Bulldogs past Live Oak, as well as the personnel to keep the Lions honest—including a very versatile running back in Jonathan Villapania and a number of targets in the air including Shobi Khan, Jovi Campos, and Austin Howard.
Regardless of who is on the field, team records, or the history of this beautiful rivalry, tonight’s game—like every game—comes down to who wants it more. And possibly more than any other game this season, both teams want to win this one pretty badly.