New twist to state's oldest continuous rivalry
El Campo Ricebirds at Bay City Blackcats
7:30 p.m. Friday, Bay City Memorial Stadium
Radio: KULP, 1390 AM & KKHA, 92.5 FM
Bob Gillis was the head basketball coach, head tennis coach and an assistant football coach at Tidehaven in 1979. Dan Burk was just beginning his football coaching career as a student assistant at Texas Tech.
Neither Gillis nor Burk had any inclination that 33 years later history would repeat itself.
When Gillis and his El Campo team travel to Bay City's Memorial Stadium to take on Burk and his Bay City team, it will mark the first time since 1979 that the two long-time rivals will meet in a non-district game.
The state's oldest continuous rivalry resumes Friday at 7:30 p.m. when the Ricebirds (2-0) and Blackcats (0-1) play for the 109th time overall and for the 93rd straight year.
El Campo leads the series 56-43-9 and has won the last six games in the series, but will enter this year's game as a Class 3A team after dropping from Class 4A in February's reclassification and realignment.
"Honestly, yes it does," Gillis said when asked if this season's contest had a different feel. "I'm not saying it's any less important to anybody. We want to win the game and I know they do too. But it does feel different because ever since I've been in El Campo they've always been in our district. The winner or loser it meant a lot and now you just win a game or you don't win a game and you move on to the next one."
Gillis will coach his 15th game against Bay City. Burk is in his first season at Bay City and will coach in the rivalry for the first time.
Both coaches understood the rivalry had to continue even when the schools wound up in different classifications.
"I called Dan and he had just gotten the job and we talked and teasingly I said, 'Dan you're brand new and and if we don't play, you'll probably never coach a game at Bay City and I can last one year at El Campo because I've been here 15 years.' I was teasing, but we knew we had to play each other."
"I think that's one of the things we had to do whether we wanted to or not," Burk agreed. "It was a necessity and plus it's always good to keep these things going."
The Ricebirds have gotten off to a good start defeating Class 4A teams Waller 31-0 and Bryan Rudder 55-26 and are ranked No. 15 in the Class 3A state poll.
"I think we've gotten better," Gillis said. "I still believe we have a long ways to go. We're not a young team, but we have new guys in positions. I think our lines are coming along week to week and for us to be good, our lines need to be good."
The Blackcats opened the season with a 48-15 loss to Sweeny and had an open date last week.
Bay City is not only trying to end its losing streak against El Campo, but is attempting to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"We feel like we're getting better," Burk said. "We've still got a lot of work to do. Our goal more than anything is just to get better every week. Be more aggressive and run to the ball better on defense and play better technique and execute better offensively."
El Campo scored a touchdown with 9 seconds left in the fourth quarter to defeat Bay City 38-32 last year and advanced to the Class 4A, Division II playoffs.
This year's game will have no bearing on making the postseason, but that doesn't make it any less important to the players.
"It's still a big rivalry," said El Campo senior Trey Martin. "We want to beat them really bad. I've never lost to Bay City and we want to keep that going."
"I hear quite a bit about it every year, if not every day," said Bay City senior Vincent Perez. "I hear 'Are y'all going to beat the Ricebirds?' I don't like to give people a go-ahead answer, but we're definitely preparing."