Memory Lane: Unity and SJ-O football
EACH WEEK, WE’LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN PREPS HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: Unity and St. Joseph-Ogden are enjoying solid starts to their football seasons. Do you remember when the rivals used to meet in the playoffs?
Date: Nov. 16, 2003
Headline: Unity makes quick work of Spartans
TOLONO — The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is still No. 1 in East Central Illinois.
If you thought it was Unity vs. St. Joseph-Ogden, that was temporarily dispelled on a chilly, wet and windy Saturday as super sophomore Henry Deters and the football Rockets ran roughshod over the visiting Spartans 26-0.
What was left to talk about at the Philo Tavern, a sports zoo in the Unity school district but a must stop for St. Joseph residents seeking a "cold one" in a dry town?
What possible fuss could the losers make after being so soundly thrashed? Isn't this three straight and 10 for 13 in the series for Rockets coach Scott Hamilton? Hasn't the Unity basketball team enjoyed similar dominance since Brian Cardinal broke in as a freshman?
Well, truth is, despite Unity's recent run of good fortune, this really is the No. 1 prep rivalry in these parts.
The old Twin City shootout between Champaign Central and Urbana is diminished by weak products on their part and the emergence of Centennial in most sports. The Arcola-Tuscola rivalry has lost something since Purple Riders coach Steve Thomas stepped down. Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm have a long-standing affair that merely deserves special mention.
The perfect match
The Rockets and Spartans have all the ingredients. They're neighbors. Not the Hatfields and McCoys exactly, but backyard quarrelers nevertheless. They've been the biggest and the baddest in their conference, fielding quality teams yearly. And their vociferous and heavily clothed followers, undismayed by messy conditions, stacked both end zones and nuzzled trucks up against the south fence at Hicks Field.
Just like the old days. Nobody seemed to care about Purdue-Ohio State. There weren't many radios attached to ears, and the few probably were listening to the game they were watching.
"The basketball rivalry dates to the mid-'60s when St. Joe and Ogden consolidated," Oscar Hicks said earlier last week from Arizona. "The football rivalry evolved after the old Okaw Valley broke up in the early '70s and the playoffs were instituted. The annual football game was a tossup in the 1980s. More recently, Unity has the edge.
"These schools are so close that everybody knows everybody. The lines almost overlap."
Hicks should know. He coached as many as five sports in a single year at Unity, handled football for 19 years and was principal for 10. No wonder they named the field after him.
Run, run away
Hicks would have been proud of his successors Saturday. Vying for a slot opposite perennial power Stillman Valley in the Class 3A semifinals, Unity's mobile linebackers swarmed all over the Spartans, limiting them to one first down in the first three quarters while Deters & Co. repeatedly slanted left for significant yardage.
"St. Joe's No. 95 (Andrew Kidd, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds) is a terrific defensive end, and we wanted to stay away from him and (Michael) Brazelton on the other side," Hamilton said. "We had a couple of schemes that were working on the left side, and our all-senior line created some excellent holes"
Unity's offensive guards and tackles average 227 pounds. St. Joseph-Ogden's interior defenders, Ben Gorman and Dustin Dees, check in at 170 and 180. If the Rockets barely squeaked by in their first meeting (13-7), this one was a mismatch.
Churning up massive gains behind the two Joshes, 265-pound Rund and 215-pound Kirkland, the Rockets shattered the Spartans' spirit. Deters had 180 yards by halftime and 237 by the end of the third quarter, after which he did not return.
The chunky Rund, his flying blond hair reminding of a bloomin' onion, explained: "We changed formations, but basically we just steamrolled them with our base play '13.' Sometimes I was able to get out on the linebacker. I don't know why it worked better this game than the last, but it did."
Said Kirkland: "We must have run the same play about 80 percent of the time. There was a gap on the left side, and they weren't closing hard. We had an angle on their smaller linemen, and we had a weight advantage."
Question is, will Unity be able to do the same thing against a bigger Stillman Valley team that has the homefield advantage and a scouting report on Rocket tendencies?
Unity, you see, didn't show much else. If the Rockets deserve credit for running 35 plays without a penalty in forging ahead 26-0 at half, the passing and kicking provided little to write home about.
You can, of course, blame the weather. Still, to live their dream of reaching Memorial Stadium, the Rockets might have to do something more than run left next weekend.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.