Many thrilling chapters have been added to the annual Lynden-Ferndale rivalry throughout the years, and for coaches Curt Kramme and Jamie Plenkovich, so many memories and individual moments exist conjuring up a single highlight proved difficult.
Kramme, though, did offer one intriguing anecdote that largely illustrates what Whatcom County’s largest annual rivalry is all about.
The year was 1994. Kramme, in his fourth year with the Lions, was leading his team into Ferndale to face the Vic Randall-led Golden Eagles. Kramme remembers the line to get in was eight-to-10 people wide, and it wrapped all the way back to Ferndale’s auditorium. Around 5:30 p.m., Kramme said players often walk about the field in their street clothes before putting gear on, and the frigid greeting his team received by the Ferndale home crowd an hour-and-a-half before kickoff still sticks with him today.
“The stands were full and everyone was standing and booing,” Kramme said.”It was the height of the rivalry.”
Some may argue the annual meeting has lost a little luster since, but there’s no doubting each fan base’s passion for the game, making for what is the closest most players will come to playing in a college-game-like atmosphere.
Whether the slate of games this Friday, Oct. 17, was planned specifically by the league’s schedule makers is unknown, but they certainly provided the county a gift by making Week 7 rivalry week for five area schools with Ferndale traveling to Lynden, Squalicum hosting Sehome for the City Championship and Lummi facing longtime rival Neah Bay at Lummi Nation.
And each rivalry presents its own unique aspect that makes it different from the other.
Without a doubt, though, Lynden-Ferndale is the featured event on this Friday’s card.
“I think it’s just how the communities are so close and how similar they are,” Plenkovich said in a phone interview on what makes the Lynden-Ferndale rivalry. “Most years, the teams have been at the top of the league. What I tell our guys is a lot of them don’t realize how lucky they are to play in such a great rivalry. A lot of other kids never get to experience a game with an atmosphere like this. You have to really take note of it, and enjoy the moment when you come out and realize what a special situation it is.”
Each team over the last decade has taken turns being on the right side of score line. The Lions have won the last five meetings quite handily with an exception to last year’s 14-6 victory. But the Golden Eagles won in 2005 on their way to a Class 3A state title and won each year until Lynden began its win streak in 2009.
Past years the Lynden-Ferndale game has even decided the league championship, but this season’s matchup doesn’t embody such heightened stakes.
Lynden (6-0, 4-0 NWC 2A/3A) enters as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A, while Ferndale (2-4, 2-2 NWC 2A/3A) has endured its roughest start since 2011. But as rivalry games go, and as Kramme would agree, already crediting the Lions with a win would be unwise.
“Our defense is based on not giving up big plays, and we are going to do our best to try to make them run a lot of plays to make that happen,” Kramme said. “Easier said than done.”
On the other side, Plenkovich praised Lynden’s ability to stay so balanced on offense and said limiting turnovers, which has proved difficult for Ferndale thus far, will be paramount.
“It would mean a lot,” said Plenkovich when asked the significance of win Friday. “They are at the top of this league and have a long winning streak. It would be great for us to go out and play well. Our kids are resilient, and I love how we have come into practice this week.”
While both programs are top class, what makes Lynden-Ferndale different than Sehome-Squalicum or Lummi-Neah Bay is there’s no love lost. Most kids are unfamiliar with each other, but the closeness of the towns and love for football always makes for a intriguing contest.
“To me, without question it’s the best rivalry in our league and one of the best in our state,” Plenkovich said.
Player familiarity makes City Championship unique
When Sehome and Squalicum take the field this Friday, Oct. 17, at Civic Stadium, odds are players wearing different uniforms have been on that same field playing in the same uniform in the past.
The winner of Lynden-Ferndale garners its own respect, but winning a city title provides bragging rights to players who see their opposition around town surely on a weekly or even daily basis.
“These kids grew up in the community and have (playing on the same team) crossed over into other sports,” Sehome coach Bob Norvell said in a phone interview. “These guys have been competitive with each other for a long time.”
Squalicum seniors Coleman Schwab, Nick Manchester, and Chris Paz played with several Sehome seniors during youth football.
“Growing up with that is what makes it really special,” Norvell said. “It’s fun to beat someone you really know. It’s a lot more fun to be competitive against your buddy.”
Both programs earned lopsided wins over Bellingham earlier this season, which sets up for a winner-take-all City Championship scenario Friday, and both teams need a win to keep pace in the postseason chase.
Squalicum (4-2, 2-2 NWC 2A/3A) and Sehome (2-4, 1-2 NWC 2A/3A), however, have taken divergent paths the past few weeks. The Storm is riding a two-game win streak with quality wins over Burlington-Edison and Ferndale, but the Mariners have lost three straight to Blaine, Lynden and Sedro-Woolley.
“It’s always fun with the kids growing up and knowing each other well,” Squalicum coach Nick Lucey said in a phone interview. “That always adds another element to it. We have been doing some good things and getting some wins in league, and that’s another big thing that adds to the game.”
Norvell said one of the largest keys in the game will be Sehome’s ability to slow down Squalicum’s passing attack, which ranks second in the NWC. The Mariners’ defense is giving up an average of two TD passes a game this year, and Norvell added his offense needs to find its own pass game in order to complement its strong run game.
It’s no secret on the other side, Squalicum will be keying on dynamic Mariners running back Taylor Rapp, who has compiled 865 total yards and seven TDs.
“We’re going to have to play sound defensively and stop their running back,” Lucey said. “And they have some horses up front and a good guy carrying the mail.”
For Sehome, it needs a win to stay in the postseason hunt, and Norvell said its up to his players to decide how they want to remember this rivalry matchup.
“For the seniors, it’s a lifelong commitment,” Norvell said of the game. “One game goes forever, and so if they want to talk about it until they are 75 here in town, they’ll find a way to win. If they want to hear about it until they are 75, they won’t find a way to win.”
Respect drives Lummi-Neah Bay rivalry
Since 2008, each year Lummi has either moved deeper into the postseason after beating Neah Bay or have been sent home at the hand of the Red Devils.
No Whatcom County football team faces the same team more often than Lummi plays rival Neah Bay. In fact, since the start of 2010 the two programs have played each other 10 times. Last season, Lummi lost to Neah Bay 46-14 during the Class 1B state semifinals at the Tacoma Dome.
And while Lynden-Ferndale and Sehome-Squalicum features a more passionate desire to beat down the opposition, Lummi-Neah Bay’s rivalry is constructed around a mutual respect.
“One thing is the tribal factor,” Blackhawks coach Jim Sandusky said in a phone interview when asked what makes the rivalry special. “Ours is more of a respectful rivalry. The kids get along a lot. ... It seems like we get excited to play them We know it’s going to be a battle.”
Sandusky said he’s even shared opponent’s game film with Neah Bay coaching staff, who he has a strong relationship with.
And like Lummi, Neah Bay’s athletics, especially football and basketball, are heavily supported by both tribal nations. The outpouring support adds to the pageantry that is arguably the state’s best 1B rivalry.
Sandusky said this year the Blackhawks are placing an emphasis on negating the passing attack. Neah Bay historically is a run-based team, but this year the Red Devils have opened their offense up.
Oddly enough, this Friday’s matchup in Lummi will be the second time the schools have played. Lummi lost to Neah Bay 38-26 back on Sept. 12.
“The guys are really excited,” Sandusky said. “We were disappointed last game. There were only two plays we really messed up. We are a heck of a lot better team than we are when we played them earlier. I don’t know if they’ve grown as much as we have, but I’m excited to see this team now play them.”