While their fields are six miles apart, the Gilbert Tigers and Campo Verde Coyotes are all too familiar with one another. The two bitter foes face off in a regional battle this Friday at 7 p.m. at Campo Verde High School.
The rivalry, which has spanned for many years, has been more one sided recently as the Tigers have not been able to crack a win against the Coyotes since the 2018-19 season. This has left a sour taste in the Tigers players' mouths and adds extra motivation to perform.
“You always have to win the game against Campo because that's the one that will stand out, that's the one that will stick with you. It stuck with us for a full year,” defensive coordinator Quenton Maag said.
Despite recent struggles against their rivals, this is a new year for the Tigers. Their 3-3 record is superior to the Coyotes’ 2-4 record.
The Tigers’ offense seemed to be their weak link in the past couple of matchups against the Coyotes but that is not the case this year. In the three games leading up to the meeting against Horizon, the Tigers' offense put up at least 20 points or more as their run game has been the focal point to their success.
In their most recent game against Horizon however, the Tigers looked out of sorts and did not execute the game plan that they had hoped for. With that being said, the Tigers are putting that game behind them while also making sure they make the necessary adjustments.
“It was a bad game,” Maag said. “But now we move on and forget it ever happened but also learn from it.”
Although their 2-4 record may not show it, the Coyotes are no joke either. With head coach Ryan Freeman at the helm, the Coyotes have been a very well-disciplined team and it is hard to catch them off guard. Their offense has been explosive as they have been able to take advantage of senior quarterback Reilly Garcia’s strong arm and ability to run at any moment.
The Gilbert and Campo Verde matchup is a unique one because of all the different elements at play. Many of the players are acquainted with each other because of their time at elementary school and junior high together.
After playing in schoolyard pick up games throughout their childhood, a lot of these young men ultimately split up during high school and found themselves on opposite sides of a heated rivalry.
“These kids know a lot of the kids who go to Campo,’’ Tigers head coach Derek Zellner said. “They have grown up together and ended up hitting that fork in the road. Some kids went to Campo and some kids came here. So they want to have those bragging rights.”
Withstanding the rivalry between Gilbert and Campo Verde, some of the players still keep in touch and have remained friendly with one another. Specifically, Tigers senior wide receiver Evan Smith and Garcia have kept in contact and even practiced together over the summer. While the two have a close bond, when on the field Smith knows it's all business and does not let his friendship with Garcia interfere with his play.
“There is some friendly banter back and forth,” Smith said. “But in between the white lines it's all business.”
With the Tigers going into the home stretch of the season, they know that every game has much added weight to it. They are currently the 15th ranked team in the 5A division, but one loss can completely derail their season and drop them out of the playoffs.
The coaching staff has sent a defining message to the team that they only have four guaranteed games left and that they will have to earn their way into the playoffs.
“Every game matters,” Zellner said. “If the players truly do want to make the playoffs like they say they do, they have to be at their best every week.”
The Tigers are not only playing to make the playoffs this Friday but are fighting for their own personal pride and bragging rights against their bitter rivals. This game is not business as usual for either team.
“It's personal,” Tigers senior center Carson Bryce said. “We just want to be the best team in our city. The practices leading up to the game and the thought of it all is different than any ordinary Friday.”
It's more than just a game, It's rivalry week.
Remy Mastey is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Gilbert High School athletics.