The Calaveras High School football team has everything to lose.
With one game remaining in the regular season, Calaveras needs a win Friday night more than ever. A win would guarantee at least a share of the Mother Lode League championship. A win would also keep Calaveras in the conversation for one of the top four seeds come playoff time, which would come with a first-round bye. A win would also be the perfect way to end senior night.
Oh, yeah, and a win would also make it 20-straight over their county rivals.
But heading into Friday’s game, Calaveras may be taking on its most dangerous opponent of the season. The Bret Harte Bullfrogs are not dangerous because of their record, their offensive or defensive schemes or roster size. No, what makes Bret Harte so dangerous is the fact that unlike Calaveras, the Bullfrogs have nothing to lose.
And the fact that Bullfrogs are essentially playing with house money makes them the most dangerous team around.
“We would probably never forgive ourselves if we lose to Bret Harte this year,” Calaveras senior Jonny Lozano said. “That would just be the worst thing that could happen this season.”
For 19 straight meetings between Calaveras and Bret Harte, the winning team has been the one from San Andreas. There is no player competing in Friday’s game that was even alive the last time the Bullfrogs beat Calaveras.
The last time Bret Harte got the upper hand over Calaveras came in November of 1999. The next year, Doug Clark joined the Calaveras coaching staff. Now, 19 years later, Clark is in his first year as Calaveras’ head coach. So, for 19 years, Clark has never seen Calaveras lose to Bret Harte, and he hopes to make it 20.
“It’s a good streak and I hope it continues,” Clark said.
While Clark doesn’t know what it feels like to lose to the Bullfrogs, Bret Harte’s interim head coach Kelly Osborn knows what it feels like to beat Calaveras, as he did so as a player wearing the purple and gold.
“Beating them was the best thing,” Osborn said. “We were fortunate with the athletes that we had to win three out of four years. I definitely like being on the winning side.”
Even though Calaveras has not lost to Bret Harte since the second Clinton administration, that doesn’t mean the Calaveras players feel the rivalry is dead. Perhaps now more than ever, the pressure to keep the streak alive is what fuels the players.
“It’s still a rivalry to us,” Calaveras senior quarterback Nolan Dart said. “We all live in the same county and you always want to see who the better team is.”
Now, while Calaveras players feel the annual Big Game is still a rivalry, do those in Bret Harte’s camp feel the same way?
“The rivalry still exists with the proximity of the two schools and the fact that we see them throughout the year in our gym and in their gym,” Osborn said. “Yeah, the rivalry is still present and something that we want to win.”
Playing in his first Big Game is Calaveras senior Tristan Wilson. As a senior, Wilson decided to join the football team and quickly made his way from watching on the sidelines to starting on both sides of the ball. Friday’s game will be his one and only game against the Bullfrogs, and Wilson is ready to be an official part of the rivalry.
“I’m absolutely looking forward to playing Bret Harte,” Wilson said. “I know it’s been a long tradition and I know that Calaveras has had the bell for 20 years now. This game is a huge deal for our team.”
Preparation for Friday’s game has been different than both teams would have liked. With the power outages around Northern California, schools have been canceled and some players have been unable to attend practices. Calaveras players weren’t able to watch films on Monday, but senior guard Cole Heath feels his coaches will have the squad ready to go.
“It makes it harder because you are not exactly sure what to expect, but our coaches have done a good job getting us ready and prepared for what we should be going up against,” Heath said about not seeing Bret Harte on film.
Friday’s regular season finale is senior night. While Calaveras should finish the regular season with a good enough record to at least get one home playoff game, there is still a chance that Friday’s game will be the final one this year at Frank Meyer Field.
“Time flies,” Dart said about senior night finally arriving. “I remember being a freshman and thinking this day would never come, and now it’s already here. Things are just flying by.”
Senior tight end Zeke Martinez added, “It’s our last regular season game for our senior year and the bell is up for grabs, so yeah, I’m excited.”
Yes, Calaveras has defeated Bret Harte 19 games in a row and, yes, some of those games were blowouts. While Clark enjoys being victorious, he hopes that, over time, the Big Game will turn back into a “Big Competition,” rather than a “Big Dud.”
“I wish every game was a competitive one,” Clark said. “It’s nice to win, don’t get me wrong, but there is nothing better for everyone when it’s a close game. You want a good, close game that goes down to the end. I know there have been many games against Bret Harte that were like that and I hope things are on the up-and-up for them and I hope it comes back to what it used to be.”
Junior varsity start time
Bret Harte does not have a JV team, so Calaveras will host Golden Sierra. That game begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday in San Andreas. The senior night ceremonies will start after the JV game ends, and the varsity game should kick off at 7 p.m.