Just under one year ago, Jerome High School head football coach Sid Gambles was preparing his team to face Twin Falls in the regular season’s final contest. The Tigers were limping toward the finish line, while the Bruins were readying for a tune-up before the 4A state playoffs. Twin Falls won 26-7.
One year later, the circumstances around the game have changed dramatically.
The Bruins sit atop the west pod of the Great Basin Conference, but the Tigers are sitting just behind them ahead of the two teams’ face-off on Friday at Jerome. With both eyeing a playoff spot, plenty will be on the line when Friday night rolls around.
“This year feels a lot different,” Jerome head coach Sid Gambles said. “It’s not the last game, and we’re playing for a lot more. We’ve still got all of our goals on the table.”
A win will guarantee the Bruins (5-2, 3-0) the top spot in the west pod and a home game in the state tournament, while the Tigers (3-4, 2-1) will be hopeful that a win catapults them to their first playoff berth since 2013. Losing would severely hamper Jerome’s chances at reaching the state tournament, but a victory would, at worst, force a three-way tie for first place in the west pod with Twin Falls and Mountain Home.
“There’s a lot at stake,” Reynolds said. “That’s why you play the game on Friday nights. That’s why we have to have our guys ready to go. It’s a big game.”
The playoff implications add a new wrinkle to a game that already has some sparks. After all, it is the “Battle of the Bridge.”
Gambles said he and his staff are trying to approach the contest as they would any other, but the Jerome players are aware of the added heat from the rivalry. He said the clashes go as far back as middle schools, and the Tigers players have been beaten by the Bruins quite often, so they want to rise up to the occasion this time.
Gambles said the coaches don’t really have to stress the importance of the game because the players “find the motivation in it themselves.”
On the south side of the Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls has been in the midst of a rivalry with Canyon Ridge, which opened across town in 2009.
“I don’t want to downplay anything, but I think the Canyon Ridge rivalry has kind of taken the front seat and the Jerome-Twin Battle of the Bridge is kind of in the backseat,” Reynolds said. “It’s still in the car, but just not in the front seat.”
Still, Reynolds said he knows the rivalry is still “alive and well” with Jerome, and expects the contest to be a fiery affair, one his team can’t take lightly.
A game, with the outcome heavily influencing how each team’s season proceeds, on Jerome’s home turf is certainly not a given, regardless of the Bruins’ status as the only team yet to lose in the west pod.
Reynolds said there are coaches on his staff who played at Jerome before Canyon Ridge opened and when the rivalry was at its peak. One of their biggest games each year was against Twin Falls, so Reynolds knows the Tigers will be prepared to fight.
“There’s that old cliche out there, ‘Fear no one but respect everyone,’” Reynolds said. “I have an awful lot of respect for Jerome. I’ve been here long enough to have been knocked off plenty of times by them because we maybe overlooked them. And we’re not going to overlook them.”
The Tigers have warranted that respect after winning two straight games and three of the past five after going 0-2 to start the campaign. Gambles said the team’s execution has improved and the confidence of the players has gone up, as well.
Now, Gambles wants the Tigers to utilize their recent upturn in fortune as they push toward a playoff spot and the Bruins stand in their way.
“We haven’t beaten them for a few years, so you kind of like to think it’s our time and we’re due, but you still have to go out there and execute,” Gambles said. “If we can put the game plan together and get the kids to buy into that and let the emotion settle down and just play football, I think we’ll be Okay.
“You don’t have to say much to the kids to know that it’s Twin Falls-Jerome week.”