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Rivalry reborn between Durango and Bayfield football

After 80 years, Bayfield set to meet Durango
Durango High School has played one game on its new turf field, but a homecoming matchup against Bayfield on Friday night has administrators preparing to set a new stadium attendance record. It is the first time Durango and Bayfield have played each other in varsity football since 1936.

Two schools separated by just 21 miles with two of the best football programs in Southwest Colorado haven’t played each other in 80 years.

The wait is over.

After the unfathomable drought and at least one year too late, the Demons of Durango will welcome the Wolverines of Bayfield to their pristine new turf field at 7 p.m. Friday for a homecoming game. Durango hopes to set a new attendance record, with the faithful from both sides expected to show up in droves.

“It’s going to be great for the area,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “We’re so close to each other we should play each other every year. Two great schools with great football programs.”

The last time Bayfield met Durango was Oct. 2, 1936. Durango used four squads in that game and beat Bayfield 12-0. The two teams met regularly from 1924 to 1936, with Durango winning 13 times and Bayfield only able to manage one tie.

It was a drastically different era of football when they last met on the field. According to football historian Dan Ford, Bayfield habitually did not know if it could field a team until after harvest and after all of the boys showed up for school, sometimes in late September.

“It’s one of those things where the evolution has come to this point where this game finally became possible,” said David Preszler, who has been athletic director at both schools. “It’s such a natural matchup, and it’s a real positive for both communities.”

Several factors caused the hiatus, the biggest being Durango’s unwillingness to schedule a game that was a no-win situation. Durango has always been in a larger-school classification than Bayfield. A win wouldn’t help the Demons much in the eyes of those who select teams for the postseason, and a loss would surely have hurt any chance Durango had at making the playoffs. In a world where strength of schedule can mean earning a shot at competing for a state championship or staying home in November, Durango scheduled games against bigger schools.

This year, Durango moved down to Class 3A, and Bayfield is the defending state champion in Class 2A. A new selection criteria is in place for state seeding, and playing a smaller school that is a quality team doesn’t hurt Durango as much as it would have in years past, regardless of result.

“The final straw that allowed this to happen was the new (Ratings Percentage Index) used for selection,” Preszler said. “Otherwise, I don’t think it would’ve ever happened.”

There was talk of a game in the 1990s when Bayfield coach Marshall Hahn had the Wolverines competing at the state level. Bayfield won a state championship in 1996 to become the first school from the Southwest to win it all. Bayfield duplicated the feat in Class 2A in 2015, the same year Durango made it to the state quarterfinals in Class 4A.

“I was pretty bummed when I heard that this would be the year,” said 2015 BHS quarterback Kelton McCoy, who was named the 2A Player of the Year. “There was a lot of talk between the players last year on both teams about who was better, and we never got to find out. Now, these guys will, and I’m glad that it is happening regardless of when because I think that this game needs to be played to answer that question.”

Bayfield has matched with Durango’s junior varsity more than 20 times between 1947 and 1993. Many modern-era players from both schools grew up playing each other in Young America Football League games in elementary school or even in middle school. Miller Middle School coach Mike Jaramillo remembers playing Bayfield teams in JV games in the late 1980s.

“They were always really good games,” said Jaramillo, who was a senior during Durango’s only state championship appearance in 1988. “It was a shame we didn’t play in varsity. We didn’t have a lot of close games. Cortez and Farmington were about it. It would’ve been cool to have a game like the guys are going to get this year with a huge crowd and the atmosphere.”

Jaramillo said the Cortez game was the biggest rivalry match of the year, but he would’ve preferred playing Bayfield because those were the kids he grew up with.

The two schools have regularly played each other in other sports. Football players would have to wait until basketball or baseball season to earn area bragging rights against their buddies. This year, the boys get to settle the feud on the gridiron.

“Even though the schools haven’t played in 80 years,” said BHS sophomore running back David Hawkins, “I played them every year from third grade to eighth, so it’s only been a year since I’ve played against those guys. Every year we played them, it was always a close game, and I’m super excited to play them again.”

Hopefully, it won’t take another 80 years for fans to witness what they will Friday night.

Durango Herald sports writer Joe Fries contributed to this report. jlivingston@durangoherald.com

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