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Ilion, Herkimer prepare for likely final battle

By MIKE LEVIN

WKTV - This Friday night, the Herkimer and Ilion football teams will play each other for perhaps the final time ever.  That's, if as expected, they combine schools along with Mohawk.  The Herkimer-Ilion football rivalry dates back  quite a few years, 1896 in fact, making it one of the oldest high school football rivalries in the country.

"You go in and try to tell the kids it's just another game, you try and talk them down, but but there's no doubt about it, the passion both teams are going to show Friday night," says Ilion head coach Jon Cole, who came to Ilion 16 years ago as an assistant and has adopted it as his new hometown.  "Not because it might be the last game, because it is the game, it's going to be huge."

"The intensity of the rivalry can match any other across the state," adds Ilion Athletic Director Bob McCann, himself a former head coach of the Golden Bombers.  "If the merger goes through, everything we've all believed, the way of life, will change.  Instead of Herkimer being our rival, they'll be our friend, our teammate, all that will change."

Herkimer head coach Alan Steele has a unique perspective on the rivalry, having grown up in Ilion and playing for the Golden Bombers when he was in high school.

"Being on both sides of it is interesting," says Steele.  "I look at my son, he's a sophomore now and he's all Herkimer.  When I was his age I was all Ilion.  It's kind of funny from that perspective."

Over the years, Steele has seen his share of memorable finishes between the two rivals.

"I was a junior and we beat Herkimer over here at Harmon Field on a fumble.  Our kid picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown to win the game.  It was heartbreaking for Herkimer, exciting for us.  Then in 2000 we were up at RFA, came up with a fumble and punched it in from the one in double overtime.  A ridiculously exciting game that we still talk about.

Friday night's game is set for kickoff at seven and NEWSChannel 2 Sports will be there with Jason Powles live at 6 and highlights on Sports Express at 11:15.

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