Howells and Dodge met twice during the 2011 season, first in the regular season and again in a Nebraska eight-man football state D2 second-round playoff game, which Howells won, 44-16.
It was the culmination of a longstanding rivalry; for the next time the teams met, it would be in the same locker room.
There weren't enough students in the two farming communities to support separate high schools. So, in 2012, the Howells Bobcats, who had won nine state titles, and the Dodge Pirates, who had won six state titles, became the Howells-Dodge Jaguars. Although the consolidation may be a mouthful to say, it has been fruitful on the field, as the Jaguars advanced to the Class D1 (eight-man) quarterfinals this year.
Longtime rivals that for much of a century despised one another suddenly forced to join forces and win together is rare in sports. Dodge and Howells experienced it for real – and now USA TODAY High School Sports is taking that concept and spreading it across the nation.
On Monday, usatodayhss.com launched a monthlong competition to determine the best high school football rivalry in the nation. It kicked off a week still known for high school rivalries across the country. In fact, among the 153 rivalries chosen for the USA TODAY High School Sports competition, 15 of them are played this weekend, including 14 on Thanksgiving Day.
All of these rivalries represent decades, and sometimes more than a century, of the greatest competition, and plenty of bad blood. But now those communities must bind together to win a state (and perhaps a national) title.
The overall winning national rivalry, which will be decided through fan voting and announced Dec. 19, will received $10,000 – to be split equally between the teams. Yes, the rivals will be forced to share. Just as those small towns in Nebraska learned to do this fall.
"At the time we played them last year in the regular season, some of the edge was already off the rivalry because we knew we would be playing together the next year," said Howells-Dodge coach Chris Speirs, who coached Howells last season. "There hasn't been much difficulty as far as kids not getting along. There was a lot of opposition in the community of Dodge to the merger, mainly due to the fact the high school would be in Howells and we're six miles away. There's still a select group of people not involved in the consolidation that are against it, but the people who have kids here are all seeing it as positive."
Ironically, the teams' interconnectedness, one of the things that made them rivals, also helped bring them together quickly. Six miles isn't very far apart, particularly in rural Nebraska. Starting tight end Logan Kampschnieder, who also throws the shot and discus, had trained at Howells' facilities and has three older cousins who had played for Howells.
"During our first week of conditioning, we came together as a team before any of the coaches talked with us," Kampschnieder said. "Before, we were big rivals. We didn't do a lot of trash talking. Now that we're together, we would tell players from Howells, 'We used to say this about you.' We laugh about it now."