The area’s biggest rivalry hasn’t lost any luster just because it’s not a district game this season.
Hilldale and Fort Gibson renew their rivalry for the 30th time at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hilldale’s Hornet Stadium.
The two teams played in District 4A-4 for the last eight years. Because of reclassification, Hilldale plays in Class 3A; Fort Gibson remains in 4A.
It’s still a big game to the players and coaches on both sides.
“I would say it’s far from being meaningless,” Hilldale coach Chad Kirkhart said. “District games are bigger than non-district games, but when you look at this game, anything can happen. Any team can win. It’s like a big personal deal as the teams want to be ready to go against their big rival.”
In his second season as Fort Gibson’s head coach, James Singleton is a relative newcomer to the rivalry. He’s been around rivalries at other schools, and he’s caught up in the excitement of this week.
“I’m fired up as anybody,” he said. “This rivalry has been around here for a long time. It’s part of our season. I told our kids that these are the kind of games that make high school football what it is. It brings out the competitive nature in everybody, not just the players.
“The coaches, the fans and administrators are jacked up for this game. It’s not a district game, but in everybody’s hearts and minds, it’s equally as important.”
At the centerpiece of the rivalry is The Rock.
It’s the trophy — the centerpiece of which was found underneath the Arkansas River Bridge at U.S. 62 — that’s awarded to the winner of the game. Players on both teams think about it.
“I want us to keep it,” Hilldale senior linebacker Josh Giem said. “They’re not going to get it from me. All of my buddies graduated and they never lost The Rock. I want us to prove a point that we can win.”
The Hornets have won five consecutive years in the rivalry, including last year’s 27-23 decision on two touchdowns in the last 4:30. Hilldale leads the series, 15-14.
Jake Farmer, the Tigers’ defensive end and offensive left guard, has his own designs for The Rock.
“After we beat Tahlequah (in the season-opening game last week), I thought, ‘Here comes Hilldale,’” he said. “I’m a senior. This is will be my last shot to be playing them and we want to get The Rock back.”
Players on both teams seem certain that the game will not be a blowout. Of the 29 games in the rivalry, 12 of them have been decided by seven points or fewer.
“It’s a good rivalry because you never know who’s going to win,” Hilldale senior guard Trandon Boylan said. “Because it’s a non-district game, I don’t think that takes anything away from it. The game still counts as a win or loss.”
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