Sterling versus Geneseo — that thought triggers a lot of high school football memories from both Golden Warrior and Maple Leaf alike.
I’m sure many of them will pop back up when Sterling travels to Geneseo’s Bob Reade Field on Friday.
Having grown up in both Rock Falls and Sterling, I was accustomed to the belief that the rivalry between the Rockets and Golden Warriors was bigger than anything I could imagine in the world of high school sports. That was, until seeing my first Sterling-Geneseo game in 2000.
I never got out much to see the Friday night lights in the uncontrollable playpen that was the Challand Middle School student section. I simply remember being there and didn’t pay too much attention to the game (in fact, I had to look up the score recently — it was a 37-12 Sterling loss).
Until you are on a football sideline in such, you don’t really understand how much a game of this magnitude means. My first taste of the rivalry occurred during the freshman game in a 10-8 road loss.
I was fortunate enough to be on the Golden Warriors sideline as a student assistant for the 2001 varsity tilt the next day back in Geneseo. The unfortunate part about that, though, was that it was a 55-0 thrashing.
That final score was also the halftime score.
Fifteen years have passed since that game, and there are still some emotions that linger among the old-time Golden Warrior faithful from the Max Gaumer era.
I was one of the many students on the sideline that did not shake the hands of the Geneseo players after that game.
At the time, I didn’t understand why we were all told to run to the locker room. When you’re a young freshman around angry football coaches, you do what they tell you to do.
I was tending to the team’s water supply behind the sideline when I heard defensive coordinator Tim Rockhold say something to the rest of the team; something to the tune of “straight to the locker room.”
This was odd. It was odder than the scene I witnessed going up the mountain of visitor’s locker room steps at halftime. Coaches were sitting steps with blank looks on their faces, seemingly staring out into space while Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll, Part 2 played on the loud speaker, echoing in the background.
“Are you a coach?” one of them had asked.
I went into our locker room, where the varsity players had lined up against four walls with similar looks. Silent. Staring in space. Then Gaumer came in. I looked at that as my cue to leave.
The absence of emotion was all I could think of during the scoreless second half. The game was the least of my concerns. However, Gaumer was concerned about the players that Geneseo coach Denny Diericx sent out for the first play from scrimmage. The Maple Leafs were passing the ball with their first string, and that made the Sterling coaches more than irate. Geneses’ argument was that there were injuries on their second team, which caused some of the first-string players to fill in the spots.
Our second-string made their way off the field at the end of the game. While Geneseo was lining up at midfield for the usual post-game handshakes, our huddled team immediately ran to our locker room. The Geneseo faithful let out some pretty deep boos when they saw the embarrassing lack of class on our part.
I’m told that there were a few players that did stay out there to shake the Maple Leafs’ hands. I didn’t know it at the time; I was running behind the many players that dashed to the locker room — because I was told to by my coaches.
Gaumer told SVM’s Mike Cunniff after the game that he had “lost all respect for the Geneseo coach.” Looking back at the incident 15 years later, as a grown-up, it was pretty shameful that we — as students — had to be involved in a coaching staff’s dislike for the opposing coaches. No matter what the situation may be.
I didn’t think too much about it on the bus ride home, until I told my father what had happened.
We ended that season being outscored 99-0 to end our year at 4-5. Gaumer was reprimanded by the school board later that winter, and was ultimately dismissed as head coach. The 55-0 defeat is the most one-sided game in the 50-game history of the rivalry, and was the sixth straight loss to the Maple Leafs.
That streak from the late 1990s to the early 2000s reached nine games, until the undefeated Sterling team of 2005 scored a 28-7 win at Geneseo. We often hear of how rivalries fade away once one side dominates the other each year. This hasn’t been the case for this particular one, as Sterling has won six of the past 10 meetings. In fact, Sterling leads the overall series 27-23, and the it remains the only one of Geneseo’s in which the Maple Leafs have a losing record in.
As much as Sterling wanted to ring the hallowed Geneseo victory bell after the 2005 game, they did not. Needless to say, the display of class over the years of this series is much improved from the spectacle of 15 years ago.
So has the competition. The two teams have been at, or toward, the top of the NCIC Northeast, NCIC Reagan, and NIB-12 West standings in each of the past 12 years.
I hope the rivalry continues to stay just as classy as it is competitive, and a far cry from my first Sterling-Geneseo experience.