BLOOMINGTON — So, this is it. Well, at least for quite a while.
The storied Intercity football rivalry between Central Catholic and University High schools ends after Friday’s 7 p.m. Corn Belt Conference matchup at Bill Hundman Memorial Field.
“It means everything; it means the world. We just want to go out and make it a game to remember,” said Pioneers senior lineman Nathaniel Ummel. “We’re going to bring everything we’ve got.”
“It’s a pretty good tradition and it’s going to be a sad thing to see it end,” said Saints senior receiver Andrew Einck. “But we’re excited to come out and leave it all on the field Friday. We’re excited to play them.”
After this academic year, U High will move to the Central State Eight Conference while Central and the other remaining Corn Belt members will join schools currently in the Okaw Valley to form the new Illini Prairie Conference.
The changes will leave the Saints and Pioneers without an opening in the football schedule to continue the rivalry as nonconference foes. With the schools almost certain to remain in different IHSA classes, a postseason matchup would never occur.
“There’s really not a whole lot we need to do to get the boys excited this week,” said Central coach Mike Moews.
“Motivating them hasn’t really been an issue this week with that added fire of playing your rival for the last time,” agreed first-year Pioneers coach Trevor Von Bruenchenhein. “Hopefully we can put it together in front of the fans on Friday night.”
Beyond the historic significance, the game carries practical importance after both teams dropped their season openers. U High absorbed a 49-13 setback visiting Class 5A No. 3 Washington, while Central could not get its offense untracked in a 28-6 home loss to reigning 2A state champion Tri-Valley.
“We’ve been worrying about ourselves because last week we had some trouble,” said Central senior lineman Zach Appio. “We try to focus on getting ourselves better; then we focus on what U High has.”
“We’re really confident in our team,” said U High senior Nathan Sakowicz. “We’re looking past week one and we’re learning off of what we did wrong. We’re going to keep doing the things we did right.”
Trinity High, which became Central Catholic in 1967, joined U High as one of the five founding members of the Corn Belt in 1950, but the rivalry was already at least 13 years old. According to Pantagraph files dating back to 1937, the Saints hold a 41-36-2 advantage in the series (it is unclear if the teams met before then).
U High actually held the series lead until 1998, when the Saints evened the mark at 30 wins apiece with a 26-6 victory. Friday’s game is the 50th since Trinity became Central Catholic; the Saints hold a 30-19 head-to-head mark over that span.
“I guess I don’t even know the extent of the rivalry the way a lot of people in town do,” said Von Bruenchenhein. “But we’ve got several kids in the program who have had parents play 30 years back.
“Everyone’s really making it known how much it means to them. We’re looking forward to going out in front of the fans and getting it done for U High.”
Moews, a Central graduate along with several members of the Saints’ staff, remembers playing in three of the rivalry games from 1979-81.
“We won all three,” he said, smiling as he rattled off the scores from each one-possession final by memory. “I’m old and I still remember back to what those were.
“The U High game was always a special game. We’ve always said it’s bragging rights for the year. Well, for the foreseeable future (this is) the bragging rights for a while.”
Moews saw some bright spots in the loss to Tri-Valley, pointing to strong play by middle linebackers Patrick Rahuba and J.P. Sikora. He would like to see more consistency from the lines, especially on offense in front of quarterback Max Moews.
“We learned a lot about what we can and can’t do. We need to get better up front,” the coach said. “We got better in the second half as the game went along, but they certainly got off the ball much better than us.”
As for the Pioneers, Von Bruenchenhein said stopping the run remains a priority on defense, while quarterback Doug Holmes has worked with his receivers on improving their timing.
“We thought we were in that game,” he said of the opening loss. “There were a lot of chances where we would’ve made it a close ball game. On offense, we were a couple inches away on multiple plays of breaking it. We got behind the secondary a couple different times and just weren’t able to connect.”
But while it may just be one more game on the schedule, players on both sides can’t help but acknowledge the desire to finish the book on the series with a victorious page.
“We really want to set the tone for the ending of the rivalry,” said Sakowicz. “It’s coming to a close and we want to make sure it comes to a great close in our direction.”
“We’re very excited to send them away with a good goodbye,” countered Einck. “We’re looking forward to winning this game and we’re excited just for the competition — and that it’s at home.”