Fierce face-off

About four miles and the Ohio River separate Marietta and Williamstown high schools.

But on the gridiron, the teams are separated by more than 50 years.

The last time the Tigers and Yellowjackets tangled on the football field was 1961, when Williamstown won 14-6 to earn just its third victory in 17 games with Marietta, according to Williamstown assistant coach Scott Moore.

What seems like a natural rivalry – geographically, at least – will be renewed on Friday as the teams face off at Don Drumm Stadium in what’s been dubbed the “Rumble on the River.”

“I’m excited. It really is a battle of the river,” said Marietta junior Garrett Davis, a fullback/linebacker on the football team. “You’d think how close we were, we’d play it like another rivalry game.”

Yellowjackets Coach Terry Smith said his players are looking forward to the contest.

“Everybody’s grown up playing Pee Wee against each other, with each other,” he said.

Marietta High School Principal Bill Lee said Williamstown seemed like a good fit to him when the school was looking to fill out its 2013 football schedule. They’ve agreed to two games, this year and next, both at Don Drumm, with the schools splitting the gate.

“We’re excited about the possibility of maintaining a long-term relationship,” Lee said.

One of the main factors that kept the neighboring schools from playing football over the years is their size. Williamstown resident Don Williams, 57, said that when he was a player for the Yellowjackets, matching up with the Tigers never crossed his mind. The Tigers were from a big school – a “powerhouse,” he said.

“I think they’re pretty well-matched this year,” Williams said. “I think Williamstown has certainly grown. It’ll definitely be a good game.”

Yellowjacket players said Wednesday they relish the chance to play a “big” school.

“I’m ready to prove that just ’cause we’re a little school doesn’t mean we’re going to back down,” said senior lineman Cody Huggins.

And Marietta Coach Adam Eichhorn said he and his team have no intention of overlooking a “small” school with a winning tradition.

“For us, it’s another game against a very good football team,” he said. “In comparison, we’re trying to build a program, so it’s a very good game for us.”

Jeff Givens, Williamstown High School assistant principal and athletic director, said that although the Yellowjackets have posted more wins than the Tigers in recent years, Marietta plays in a very strong league and has traditionally matched up against larger schools like Parkersburg High School when crossing state lines.

However, Givens said the Yellowjackets’ success over the years has made it difficult for them to find potential opponents.

“We really are not in a position to be picky, which forces us into an extremely tough schedule,” he said.

Plus, the game makes economic sense as neither team will have to go very far. In fact, Williamstown High School is closer to the stadium than Marietta High School.

“It’s going to save me probably $1,000 in travel,” Givens said.

The game is expected to draw a number of fans of both schools, which prompted Marietta to move up the cancer awareness theme its had at one of its games the last two years to September instead of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“So many people are going to be there for it,” said Mary Hogan, who helps organize the cancer awareness activities and whose son Alex is a senior on the Tiger football team.

Some Marietta players will be wearing gear with the color of the specific type of cancer they’re standing up against. Special T-shirts touting the Rumble on the River are being sold at Marietta High School during lunch and at Haircutters in Williamstown, with any leftover to be sold at the game itself. All proceeds go to the Strecker Cancer Center’s patient emergency fund, which provides gasoline cards and helps with other expenses for people undergoing cancer treatment. In addition, students will work the crowd during the game, collecting donations for the fund.

Hogan said she’s gotten enthusiastic support from Williamstown for the fundraising activities.

“This is about two schools coming together to help our communities,” she said. “We’re actually one huge community.”

Williamstown senior Brandon Root, a tight end/linebacker, said that makes the game even more special.

“It feels great that we’re playing a game to raise money for … cancer,” he said.

A Rumble on the River trophy for the winning school has been ordered, and it would travel with the winner each year. Hogan said organizers would also be open to tying other charitable causes to the game in future years.