Coloma and Watervliet… “Game On” and the rivalry continues
By Dave Vollrath
Tradition. Legacy. Rivalry. No matter what you call it, fans of local football know there is no larger gridiron game than when the Coloma Comets meet up with the Watervliet Panthers.
It is a game where multiple generations of young men have pulled on their helmets and strapped on their shoulder pads, previously in November but now in mid October as an early fall chill replaces the heat and sweltering weather they began this journey playing in, just a few short months ago. It is Coloma and Watervliet, as it has been for most of over 100 years, this is the final game of the regular season, and for some the final game of their football career. There is much more on the line than a win or loss, at least a year’s worth of bragging rights over your neighbors, your families, sometimes over your best friends.
This Friday night is the night of this game for Coloma and Watervliet.
Gang Green, Maroon Platoon. Green and Gold. Maroon and White. Coloma Head Coach Joe Stephens will once again be matching wits with Head Coach Jeremy Andrews. The last game of the regular season is here, and for these two teams it is as big as it gets.
COLOMA VARSITY FOOTBALL TEAM… (from the left): Front row – Michael Case, Cole Allmon, Izaiah Perkins, Josiah Glaspy, Taequan Shurn, Nick Eastman, Zach Colvin, Stacy Branscomb, Kevin Hearn; Middle row – Zach Gatchell, Nick Santarlas, Charlie Cullitan, Cole Alsup, Trent Brown, Cody Reese, Zack Lake, Tayte Colemon, Trenton Harrell, Caleb Ellis, Kenny Crowder, Kenyon Boyd; Back row – Mgr. Logan Roberts, coaches Curt Mead, Brian Klee, Todd Smith and Joe Stephens, Carl Bruins, Dalton Turner, James Clay III, Davion Bledsoe, Nathan Strunk, Jackson Hodges, Alec DeLaTorre, Sin’cere Taylor, Zach Goodline, Bryton Fitzgerald, coaches Kenny Ashley, Tim Rebb, Jason Crisenbery and Marshall Champion. (Photo by Shawn Mead Photography)
Both teams have been competing for eight, what seems like, short weeks. Coloma comes in with a record of 4-4, and the Panthers will be coming into the Coloma Stadium with a record of 2-6. If history has taught us anything about these two teams and playing in this game, once the ball is kicked to begin this game, those records can be tossed away and forgotten.
The Panthers will be coming into this game struggling, with no chance to reach the playoffs, for the first time since 2010. The Comets however still have a slight mathematical chance, with a win to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Either way the stakes are huge, because this will never be a game where you are just playing out the schedule.
The tradition of Coloma and Watervliet football dates back over 100 years. The first game between these two communities was played on November 4, 1909. The Comets won that game by shutting out the Panthers 12-0. It’s been told a couple of wagons got stuck going home after the game, but that has not been substantiated. But this is where the party started, and a legacy was born.
In the early years, the teams often met twice a year. It wasn’t until 1932 that they finally decided that playing once a year was enough.
From then on, these two frienemies met every year through the 2011 season. Due to the Comets moving into the Wolverine Conference, the collision of these rivals came to a screeching halt. Coloma and Watervliet did not face each other during the 2012 through the 2014 seasons.
In 2015 however, Coloma once again changed conferences, and moved into the Southwestern Athletic Conference, where a familiar foe was waiting, as Watervliet was already a member, and the rivalry of more than a century could once again resume, with all the previous pageantry as it always had. Just like an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time, not many words need to be said; in football you just go back to knocking heads with one another. Ahhhh that’s good, let’s go to banging!!
That first year back the game was played in the middle of the season, and Watervliet pounded out a 54-13 win. That wasn’t largest win in this series, as the Comets whooped up on the Panthers in 2007 and won by a score of 56-6.
The two teams played to a tie in the years of 1920, 1923, 1924, 1928, and 1933. One point differences were recorded in the years, 1925, 1949, 1950, 1952, and 2005.
In asking the locals, old timers, and die hard football fans, the greatest game of the season is held the final Friday of the regular season, and includes the Comets of Coloma and the Panthers of Watervliet.
Starting again last year, 2017, the two schools have resumed this long standing tradition of playing on the final date, much to the delight of the fans of both communities.
Coach Andrews acknowledges the excitement and importance of the game to all involved, the players, the fans, and the community as a whole.
Andrews commented a year ago that, “It’s a big game for sure. The schools and towns are so close that a lot of the kids know each other. That makes it more personal.
“The game certainly gets the community excited. I have had a few people tell me this week that some of their family members, friends, etc, who do not normally come to games would definitely be attending.”
Coloma’s Coach Stephens says, “I love the Coloma/Watervliet game, I knew it was a special game when I first arrived here as an assistant 11 years ago, and I appreciate it even more now after it was taken away from us for a few years. Playing the school two miles down the road is what high school football is all about. A lot of kids go their whole high school career without ever playing in a game that is as special as this one is.”
Coach Stephens also says some of his favorite memories of the game include the 2008 game where Coloma scratched out an ugly 13-12 victory. It was his first ever coaching in Coloma, and he said it was supposed to be a high scoring shootout, but each team had to fight for every yard. Another of his favorites was the 2009 game which was the big 100th year game that Coloma won 21-12. Coach Stephens said the atmosphere that week was electric and unlike any he had ever coached in, in a regular season game.
WATERVLIET VARSITY FOOTBALL TEAM… (from the left): Front row – Johnny Benevide, Garrett Matthews, Jakob Aldrich, Dylan Tucker, Tristan Schultz, Nick Polaskey, Manny Guzman, Don Smith III; Second row – Manager Hannah Nye, Kris Lenox, Austin Terry, Isaac Wilmoth, Jacob Wilmoth, Isaiah Yazel, Dylan Lawson, Allen Chapin; Third row – Derrick Burkhardt, Cole Pline, Jimmy Collis, Eric Kehrer, DJ Telschow, Jermaine Granados, Logan Geisler, Collen Doneruse; Back row – Coach Chris Prom, Coach Kyler Kiekenapp, Head Coach Jeremy Andrews, Coach Ben Loshbough. (Photo by Shawn Mead Photography)
It was also my personal favorite, being down on the field during the pregame ceremonies, with my father, both my sons, teammates, relatives and friends old and new, along with dozens and dozens of former players from both schools. Also my youngest son was one of the captains for Coloma that night, and my father was an honorary captain. It was not only one of my favorite football memories it was one of my favorite lifetime memories as my dad passed away about six months after that game.
Coloma will no doubt be going into the game trying to slow down the Panther’s vaunted passing attack, and although they have been struggling lately, their game plan probably won’t be altered too much, as they have had great success with their system over the last few years. Even though starting quarterback Garrett Matthews has been lost for the year with an injury, sophomore Don Smith has taken the reins of the offense and has been improving each week, he will be trying to spread the ball around to his offensive weapons, Tristan Schultz, Jacob Aldrich, Isaac Wilmouth, Manny Guzman, and Johnny Benevidez.
Coach Andrews will be working his defense overtime this week in looking to slow the Comets multi-faceted quarterback Zach Goodline, and his ability to spread the ball around to his big guns on offense, fullback Zack Lake, running backs, Caleb Ellis and Kenyon Boyd. He will be throwing the ball downfield to split ends, Sincere Taylor, and Nick Santarlas. The Comets are led on defense by Cody Reese, Goodline, Trent Brown, and Taylor.
As stated earlier, the records can be thrown out because there have been an over abundance of upsets over the years, as each team has found a way to win games that on paper looked very much one sided. Let’s just throw out one more over used phrase and say, “You don’t play the game on paper, and that’s why they play the game. I mean, that’s why they play THE GAME!”
See you all Friday night…