The Jonesville, Reading football rivalry isn’t exactly the kind where you would expect Comet and Ranger players to meet for a quick cone at the Quincy Dairy Queen sometime this week, just to wish their fellow friends good luck.
Instead it’s the kind of rivalry that can define a season in 48 minutes, and it’s the kind of key contest that has high school students dreaming about making the big play to help beat their Big Eight foe for an entire offseason.
Rick Bailey knows all about the rivalry, having been involved in it as Reading’s coach for almost two decades, and first-year Comets coach Joshua Lindeman has been enlightened about it since the day he walked in the door.
“I didn’t know when I got this job that Jonesville and Reading had become a rival. I assumed that Jonesville’s rival would be Quincy because you can throw a rock from one town to the other, but these kids don’t talk about Quincy,” Lindeman said. “From day one when I walked in, I asked the seniors what the number one goal was and (they said) ‘Beat Reading,’ before I could hardly get the words out of my mouth.”
While the Rangers hold a slight 12-9 series lead since 1990, no current Comet has ever beat Reading, as Bailey’s team has won the last four meetings, including a 46-7 drubbing last year in a game Comets players went into with high hopes.
Reading is ranked No. 6 in the latest Division 7 Associate Press poll, but Jonesville senior lineman Alex Bontempo said he and his teammates learned from last year’s game and he thinks Ranger fans might be surprised how well things have been progressing under the Comets new head coach.
“I think we were a little timid to play them, but this year it’s going to be completely different, we’re ready. Overall I just think they aren’t ready for us, I think they have doubts about us,” he said. “This will be the biggest memory. Right now this is the biggest week of our lives.”
Fellow co-captain, senior quarterback and defensive back Drew Hawley echoed his sentiments and said every guy on the roster and every coach on the staff is simply excited about the opportunity that Friday presents.
“Every time coach turns around he’s yelling ‘Beat Reading!’, so we definitely want it bad. I think we want it more than they do,” he said.
And when asked whether he had many friends from Reading Hawley had this to say, with a wide grin lighting up his face: “A few, but especially not this week, right?”
Bailey, the grizzled veteran who has turned the Rangers into a consistent Big Eight and state playoff contender, said his team always gets a little more excited for both the Quincy and Jonesville games and he takes the energetic fighting words from the Comets as a compliment.
“That’s a nice compliment, I’ll take it that way. Hopefully year in, year out we’re up toward the top so you take it that way,” Bailey said. “It’s similar, obviously not on the same scale, to Michigan-Ohio State and things of that nature. That kind of defines the season a lot of times if you can win that game.”
Bailey said his primary goal each week is to make sure his team is improving, expanding its playbook and making adjustments, but he admits things are a little more intense when the Comets are next on the schedule.
“There is a little extra bounce in (the players’) step, especially Monday when you come out and recognize you’re playing one of your rivals by proximity,” he said.
Lindeman is selling Friday night as a major athletic and life opportunity for his kids, but he said it’s not just about the final score, it’s also about the experience.
He can still vividly recall lining up to play Onsted as a member of the Hudson Tigers and he’s excited to be part of another rivalry that has many of the same characteristics.
“We’re trying to play to that because this is what high school football is all about. Win or lose, these are the games you remember,” he said. “One of my fondest memories is my senior year, being ranked No. 1 in the state and losing to Onsted 34-24. They had no business playing with us and it was on their home field so I still remember every play of that game. I’m trying to feed this to the kids and that’s why I told them it’s going to be the greatest week of their lives.”
Bailey said every Reading-Jonesville game goes down as a special one in his book, but when pressed to select one as his favorite he says it might have been the 6-0 win his team earned over the Comets in the 1998 playoffs.
He said he was good friends with then-Jonesville coach Greg Morrison and winning a regional title on Jonesville’s watch didn’t hurt either.
Like Lindeman though, Bailey is just thankful for Friday nights from late August to mid-November and to him this game is what high school athletics are all about.
“I think any small community rallies behind their high school football team, so you know, it’s one of your drawing cards when you’re a small community like both of us are,” he said. “Both communities have reason to be proud of what’s going on Friday nights and to me there is nothing better than Friday night high school football.”