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All these years later, Hornets still sting

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All these years later, Hornets still sting

Dave Campbell, playing for Anderson High, tackles Enterprise star Lon Harris in their rivalry game 38 years ago.

Photo contributed/

POSTED December 13, 2013 12:39 a.m.

The night before my last high-school football game 38 years ago, the local sportscaster said that since our season was done and our opponent was undefeated and going to the playoffs, we would only lose by 14 points.

The fever whipped up by his prediction lasted about five or six plays when we gave up a 93-yard touchdown run and it appeared that he was right. But I had never beaten this team – through four years of youth football and all of high school – and I was not going to lose again.

Just as our heads were down after that long scoring run, their kicker put the ball through the uprights for the extra point and then he danced a little dance, throwing a blue-and-gold garter (our school colors) into the air. The flame ignited by the sportscaster was just about extinguished, but the arrogant display by their kicker – on our field, for our last game – took that flame and turned it into a wildfire.

We scored later in the half, and I was hoping for a fake-kick call for the conversion, because I was the primary for a pass on that play. The option was called, and since our quarterback lost the game for us the last season against these guys, I knew there was no way he was going to do anything but keep the ball.

I was right. He was hit on the 2-yard line and went down into the pile on the 1. However, he squirmed through the mud into the end zone, and since nobody could tell exactly where he went down, two arms went into the air and we had the lead.

The other team had shredded opponents through the air all season. But the football gods were on our side that night. A thick fog rolled in after we scored – so thick, in fact, that you could not see the other side of the field. The announcer was at a loss, and the stands from both sides emptied onto the sidelines to try to get a glimpse of the action.

Any attempt at deep passing proved futile – the ball would get lost in the fog. With time running down and us still in the lead by a point, their defense became desperate to get the ball  back. On fourth and short the coach shifted me to tight end to pull through the middle on a counter and I put my head in the stomach of their linebacker. I can still hear his groan to this day. (I know, that was not perfect form on my part, but it sure felt good!)

The game was ours. When the gun sounded my brother broke from the fans on the sideline,  picked me up and threw me into the air. Absolute pandemonium broke loose. The team that was picked to demolish us and roll to a section title was mortally wounded –  so much so that they lost in the first round of the playoffs.

We took credit for that loss because we just beat the hell out of them. But what does all this have to do with the atmosphere in Manteca this week with the biggest game in city history on the horizon? My opponent that night is the same as the Buffaloes will have on Saturday – the Enterprise Hornets.

Look at any yearbook from the ‘70s at you will see long hair and sideburns for the graduation pictures. Not at my school. As football players, we had to have military haircuts. Enterprise did not – and they ridiculed us incessantly for our soldier-boy haircuts.  But that was then. As a classmate of mine said when I made a post about this game on Facebook, the kids on the field Saturday night will be the grandchildren of my rivals.

As a Johnny-come-lately to the high-school athletic scene in Manteca, I look with envy on those my age that grew up here and their athletic roots. The rivalries of yesterday still run deep today, but the absolute disdain of days gone by has melded into something much less caustic and a form of unspoken respect.

Every year as the big games come around, I feel like an outsider when the trash-talking begins. I have come to know and respect some of the coaches and players of those days, and wonder what it would have been like to play on those teams.  I will never know, but when Manteca takes to the field on Saturday, they will do so against the biggest rival I ever had.  While that loss in 1975 is but a pimple in the history of Enterprise football, I know it is there.  Whenever I drive past that campus I still smile.

So roll on, you Buffs. Take the stinger out of the Hornets and hand it right back to them.  I can tell you from experience – nothing will feel better. 

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