Jenks, Union set to renew familiar rivalry in unfamiliar territory
Every year in early September there is one thing we can always count on when it comes to high school sports in Oklahoma … the Jenks/Union Game.
However, as is the case with almost everything, the 2020 version of the Midfirst Bank Backyard Bowl has a wrinkle to it. The game will be played at Jenks for the first time in 22 years.
In 1998, the Trojans’ home stadium was called Hunter-Dwelley Field, now Jenks plays in Allan Trimble Stadium, but the field lays in the same spot as it did the last time a Union High School football team played on the west side of the Arkansas River.
The Trojans hope this game goes differently than the 1998 version did but hopes the end of the season goes the same. Jenks lost to Union 55-45 in the regular season, but then beat the Redskins 41-28 in the Class 6A State Championship game in a monstrous upset.
Since 1998, the rivalry has blossomed into one of the best in the nation.
“This rivalry drew national attention before I got here,” Jenks head football coach Keith Riggs said. “With some of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s games and the huge crowds they had at the University of Tulsa, there are so many things that make it special. The communities being side-by-side and the excellence that both teams, schools and communities strive to achieve is at a very high level. You combine those things with the results we have had in these games, for both teams, is incredible.”
Riggs said it does not matter what the experience level is of each team or what the records are, something exciting seems to always happen.
“From the Kejuan Jones’ catch and run 20 years ago to the end of the semifinal game a couple of years ago to the fumble and scoop and score for more than 90 yards last year, it just seems like something big always happens,” Riggs said. It is a big week for the kids. So many of our players know their players very well. They have played against them growing up and even with them on some tournament teams after their youth seasons. The kids know each other so well and everyone is familiar with the rivalry.”
Even though the Midfirst Bank Backyard Bowl does not have any playoff implications to it, Riggs said there is a lot to play for in this game.
“You want to have those bragging rights and want to be the one that coms out on top against your big rival,” Riggs said. “It doesn’t have any bearing on your ultimate goals of winning your district and getting a good seed in the playoffs, but it does put you in a big game environment, which is important for the kids to experience now and not for the first time in a district or playoff game. Playing games like these are beneficial for our kids down the road in the season.”
Following Jenks’ 42-35 loss at Bixby last Friday, Riggs said he want to see his team improve and correct the breakdowns they had against the Spartans.
“We want to be a better football team this week,” Riggs said. “We want to be able to play at a high level for all four quarters. We played at a high level for a great part of the game last week, but we had some spans where we didn’t. If we can eliminate those or at least shorten them, the score will take care of itself.”
Union has opened the 2020 season in an abnormal way. The Redskins are 0-2 after a 34-0 loss to Bixby and a 14-7 loss to Broken Arrow in their first two weeks.
Riggs said he does not pay attention to records when getting his team ready to play, especially Union.
“They are a very talented football team,” Riggs said. “They have played two really good football teams. You can’t judge the ability of a team based on their record. They are a very good football team. They are young and inexperienced. We have been there before and know what that is like. They are going to start to get things figured out and be very formidable and win a lot of football games down the road.”
Riggs said the Union defense will present a challenge Friday for the Trojans.
“They are really big up front and very explosive,” Riggs said. “Their linebackers and secondary is very athletic and run very well. It will be a big challenge for us up front to win the line of scrimmage. That will be important for us. We want to be able to run the football and choose when we want to throw and not be forced into it.”
Union’s offense has a familiar face leading the way. Offensive coordinator Dub Maddox held the same position at Jenks for a number of years. Riggs said facing Maddox’s offense will be a tough test for his defense.
“They have a very talented backfield with their quarterback and running back A.J. Green, who is an Arkansas commit,” Riggs said. “They have some tall receivers, who are some big targets to throw to. As they continue to learn Coach Maddox’s system, they are going to become a really good offense.”
Riggs added that he is excited to coach against Union in a true home game for the Trojans.
“It has been a long time since it has happened here,” Riggs said. “None of our kids were even born the last time it happened. Everyone is excited to play our big rivals here at home, but anywhere we play them, it is going to be a big and exciting game.”