It’s far from the oldest rivalry in Thurston County high school football history, not even two decades old. The results have often been lopsided, one way or the other, and the all-time series favors Tumwater High School, 14-3.
But the annual Pioneer Bowl — which, this year, will mark the 18th meeting between Black Hills and Tumwater, two high schools separated by a freeway — attracts attention. A lot of it.
The parking lot in front of Tumwater District Stadium will be full Friday for the 7 p.m. kickoff. So will the overflow parking lot near the softball field, the parking lot of the nearby church, and several of the side streets.
“It’s a natural rivalry game,” Tumwater coach Sid Otton said. “There’s a little more emotion involved.”
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Otton — who has been Tumwater’s head coach for all 17 renditions of the Pioneer Bowl and will retire at the end of this season with more wins than any other high school football coach in state history — tries to treat it like every other week.
“Our philosophy has been to try to have a faceless opponent and focus on being consistent,” he said. “But, there’s going to be a lot of talk at home with friends, and so forth, about it.”
Kirk Stevens has coached at Black Hills since its opening, first as a defensive coordinator, now as the program’s head coach. His staff tries to downplay it, too.
“The kids get excited,” Stevens said. “We try to make it just another game as coaches. But, you can tell, it’s more than just another game.”
The Wolves jubilantly cheered in 2009, their most recent win, when Cody Peterson — who went on to play for the Naval Academy — rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns to snap a four-year losing streak.
The T-Birds fired off eight touchdowns a year later, led by Kyle Warner who had four, before rolling to their fifth Class 2A state title.
And plenty has happened in the years on either side. Here is a look at three defining games in the rivalry’s history.
No. 1 Tumwater 42, No. 9 Black Hills 14 (Oct. 23, 2015): It created the most buzz in the rivalry’s recent history — two ranked teams, both undefeated.
Black Hills, 7-0 at the time, was off to its best start in school history. Tumwater, also 7-0, had yet to play an evenly matched opponent.
For the first time in six years — Tumwater had won the previous five meetings by 28 to 47 points — it seemed Black Hills would contend with the T-Birds for the 2A Evergreen Conference title.
“They had a lot of momentum,” Otton said. “We had some established momentum from what we’d been doing in years prior.”
But, the difference between No. 1 and No. 9, again, turned out bigger than expected. The emblazoned battle of unbeaten programs was all but decided before the teams broke for recess.
“They’re going to control the ball. They’re going to make things happen,” Stevens said. “It’s constant. They make you grind out and win every yard.”
To Black Hills’ credit, it held Tumwater to seven points in the first quarter for the first time that season, and the game appeared within reach for most of the first half.
When Griffin Shea ripped off a 69-yard touchdown run to give the T-Birds a 7-0 lead, Jewell Day had an answer 28 seconds later. He caught a pass from Christian Williams near midfield, bounced off Shea, and scurried for a 66-yard touchdown.
Tumwater slipped away just before the half. Williams exited with a concussion on back-to-back sacks in the second, and Black Hills lost two of its defenders to injuries.
The T-Birds reeled off five more touchdowns — three on rushes of 10, 3 and 5 yards by Dominic Jones — before the Wolves scored again.
“We came out in the second half, but we were much more one-dimensional, and they loaded up against the run,” Stevens said. “We didn’t have the mobile quarterback, so they could stay over the top on the chase. They turned the dogs loose.”
Tumwater won its sixth consecutive Pioneer Bowl, and sixth consecutive undefeated league title, before moving on to play in the state title game, where it lost to Prosser.
Black Hills did advance to the 2A state playoffs for the first time since 2009, but was upended in the first round by Archbishop Murphy, a team Tumwater eventually beat in the semifinals.
Black Hills 14, Tumwater 0 (Nov. 7, 2003): Tumwater leads the all-time series by 11 games. Its active six-game winning streak is the longest in the series. It has scored the most points in the series by a substantial margin.
The list could go on.
But Black Hills has a significant bragging point buried underneath all of that — the Wolves are the only team in the rivalry’s 17-year history to post a shutout.
Tumwater has never done that.
“There was a two-year stretch where we weren’t very good, and they were pretty dang good. And they got to us,” Otton said.
“The three times we won, we were the better football team,” said Jack Zilla, who coached Black Hills to each of its Pioneer Bowl wins.
In 2003, Black Hills won its first game against Tumwater, a 14-0 shutout, in its regular season finale on a chilly Friday night.
Aided by a trio of interceptions — two by James Hardy — the Wolves held Tumwater to 138 total yards.
Jake Dixon eclipsed that number by himself.
The Wolves’ star running back rushed 23 times for 201 yards — his fifth game of the season rushing for 200-plus yards, which brought his total to 1,989 — in the inaugural victory.
Following a 26-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, Dixon scampered into the end zone on a 51-yard sweep midway through the fourth to ice it.
“This is good. It feels good. I’ve waited three years for this bad boy,” Dixon told The Olympian following the game, hoisting the Pioneer Bowl trophy for the first time.
A celebration followed. Black Hills won, 34-21, the following season — the only consecutive games in the series it has won — and again in 2009, but the shutout reigns as the most defining for Zilla.
“It was the first win,” he said. “You’ve got to win one before you win another one.”
Tumwater 31, Black Hills 28 (Oct. 22, 1999): No one quite knew what to expect.
Two years removed from Black Hills’ opening in 1997 — when it was built, Tumwater High School’s population split — the programs met for the first time at Tumwater District Stadium.
“Being the first one, I think there was quite a lot of tension on both teams because of the nature of the game,” Otton said.
It happened to be the closest margin of victory in the series. Every game since has been decided by a touchdown or more — the average margin of victory is 22.4 points — and several have been all but over in the first half.
But the first one was decided late.
On Black Hills’ final possession, Tumwater’s Kenny Clark stripped the ball away from Spencer Gore. Wes HansonSmith scooped it up, and the T-Birds held on to a 31-28 win.
“We didn’t take them for granted,” HansonSmith told The Olympian after the win. “They just got excited, came out, and played hard. … They made us work for it.”
That win set up the series. Tumwater won four straight before Black Hills tallied its first win, and the T-Birds have never trailed.
“The first one gives you confidence, but you still have to do it over again the next year,” Otton said.