PENDLETON — Mark Mulvihill can still remember the feeling that Hermiston week brought him and his Pendleton Buckaroo teammates.
“There was a huge expectation that week that we had to win,” said Mulvihill, who quarterbacked Pendleton from 1980-1982. “As a QB, I felt more pressure in those games than in any other game, more so than a playoff game even. You did not want to be that first class to lose to Hermiston.
“Other games were always fun and exciting, but the Hermiston game was a relief when it was over.”
During Mulvihill’s playing days, Pendleton was in the midst of a win streak over its rival Hermiston that lasted more than half a century. The two Umatilla County schools that now sit just 27 miles apart began the series in 1922 when Hermiston — then known as the Irrigators — beat Pendleton 19-18 thanks to a pair of missed extra points by the Buckaroos.
However for the next 62 years Pendleton held on to the bragging rights as it won 56 of the 57 total meetings, with the only Buckaroos’ non-victory being a 7-7 tie in 1941. To the Bulldogs credit, the playing field was slanted toward them for a good chunk of that stretch as Pendleton was a bigger town and a bigger school that was regularly winning league titles, while Hermiston was struggling for winning seasons. But that did not stop both teams treating it with the same level of intensity as a state playoff game every time they stepped onto the field.
“There is nothing like rivalry week,” said David Boor, who played for Pendleton from 1986-1988. “They did not like us and we did not like them.”
Dean Fouquette, who was the starting quarterback for the Buckaroos in 1969 and 1970, got his first real taste of the rivalry in his first year as a starter in 1969. Pendleton, who came into the game 7-0 with the Intermountain Conference title already under its belt, scored an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the game’s opening kickoff, but then was beat up by Hermiston for the remainder of the first half and trailed their rivals 18-7 at the break. There, the team got a swift pep talk from then-coach Don Requa that Fouquette said was “as good as I’d ever heard,” and it worked as Pendleton came back to win the game 21-18.
“We were fortunate and lucky to get out of there with a win to keep the streak alive,” he said.
The 1969 meeting has become known as “the chicken game” to the locals, and Fouquette still chuckles about it.
During pre-game warmups that year in Hermiston, some Bulldog cheerleaders left some dead chickens in the home team’s locker room designed to fire up their team to try and end the dreadful losing streak. The cheerleaders even left a note behind that was signed by the Buckaroos.
Fouquette said he and his team were clueless about the incident until a few years later when he became friends with a few Bulldog players and cheerleaders and was told of the incident.
“It’s what makes it a huge rivalry,” Fouquette said. “It’s the biggest game of the year to the citizens of Pendleton and Hermiston. It’s really for bragging rights, Expectations are high for both teams to win.”
When Fouquette was a senior in 1970, the Buckaroos again came into the game 7-0 but this time they were more prepared from the start and went on to win the game 17-7 thanks to a better mindset and, of course, another Requa pep talk.
“I can remember Requa saying ‘Most of you guys are going to be living here (Pendleton) for the rest of your life and if you lose to them, you’ll have to listen to them talk about this at weddings, funerals and graduations, so by god you better get out there, take care of business and win the football game,’” Fouquette recalled.
Hermiston finally ended the streak against Pendleton in 1984 with a 27-14 come-from-behind victory. But Pendleton again dominated the series for the next decade-plus with 13 straight victories until the Bulldogs finally started to build a winning program in the late 1990s and won in 1997 and then again in 1999.
Mulvihill has seen both sides of the rivalry now after living in Hermiston for numerous years and as a school administrator and calls it a “very healthy rivalry between communities.” He even remembers the day he interviewed for an administrator position with Hermiston years ago, the second question he was asked was where he would sit during the game.
However, as Pendleton was the big brother in the rivalry for more than half of a century, Hermiston has overtaken that role since the turn of the 21st century. The Bulldogs are 10-7 since 2000 and have won five straight to bring the all-time series record to 76-14-1. But that doesn’t mean that guys like Fouquette, Mulvhill and Boor, who have all made friends with former Hermiston players, don’t miss the opportunity to reminisce about their dominant days.
“You always talk about it, even when I had my 40-and-over baseball team I had guys from Hermiston and we’d always reminisce,” Fouquette said. “There’s some good-natured ribbing that goes on but when you get older and become friends and know people better, some of that stuff goes away, but you’ll always have bragging rights if your team wins. For us our teams were successful against Hermiston, and now we get to listen to those people from Hermiston that have been successful against us. It’s not a lot of fun but they have the right, they won the game and can say what they want and we just have to grin and bear it because we’ve been there and that’s part of the rivalry.”
Which also makes it harder for Buckaroo alumni to hear that Friday’s Pendleton-Hermiston game will be the 92nd and likely final meeting. With Hermiston leaving the OSAA for the WIAA starting with the 2018-19 season, the Bulldogs will have just one non-league game with a floating bye week year-to-year, which makes scheduling a game with Pendleton very difficult. On top of that, Hermiston’s enrollment is nearly twice the size of Pendleton’s which begins to create a competitive balance issue, which is enforced more in today’s OSAA than it was when the two schools began playing.
“There’s a lot of factors involved,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said. “One of them is we only get one non-conference game a year, and it is during a rotating bye week. At the same time both of our schools, while we are really competitive in all sports including football, are really going different directions. Our community is continuing to grow and grow, and if there is a sport in high school athletics where numbers is an issue, it ends up being football.”
Understandably, Buckaroo alumni are devastated that the rivalry is ending.
“I wish they could keep the rivalry,” Fouquette said. “The atmosphere is always good no matter where you’re playing. It’s still a very healthy rivalry that gets the kids excited, gets the coaches excited, and certainly gets the fans excited. I hate to see that go away, but like a lot of this redistribution within the OSAA a lot of rivalries have gone away like this one.”
“Being on both sides of it, it makes me sad,” Mulvihill added. “We used to have rivalries with La Grande, Baker, Ontario, all of these east side competitive games and were’ losing another part of that tradition. The games are great community-bonding, quality entertainment that’s being taken away and it’s disappointing.”
Contact Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839. Follow him on Twitter @ByEricSinger.