The sun dips below the Oklahoma horizon, casting a fiery glow over the town of Hartshorne. As the clock ticks closer to 7 p.m., the anticipation in the air is palpable. It’s not just any Friday night; it’s Week 1 of the high school football season, and the stage is set for the legendary Battle of Gowen Mountain between the Wilburton Diggers and the Hartshorne Miners.
For these two rival schools, this game is more than just a regular Week 1, non-district contest; it’s a tradition that has spanned generations. The Battle of Gowen Mountain, named after the nearby Gowen Mountain that serves as the divider between Pittsburg and Latimer counties, has been a staple of Oklahoma high school football for years, drawing fans from across the state to witness the clash between these two teams.
This year’s game holds special significance as it marks the final Battle of Gowen Mountain for four senior stars: Jackson Moody and Kelby Thomason from Hartshorne, and Troy Clark and Jayvon Leckelt from Wilburton. These players have spent their high school careers giving their all on the gridiron, and this game will be their last chance to etch their names into the storied history of this rivalry.
“It means a lot. It will be a very emotional game for me. Just gotta make sure to win the last one,” Jackson Moody, Hartshorne’s quarterback and linebacker said when asked about what it means to play in his last Battle of Gowen Mountain. His words reflect the sentiment shared by all four seniors, a mix of nostalgia and determination.
When discussing their expectations for the game, Moody points out that the Battle of Gowen Mountain brings a unique intensity, with plenty of trash talk and pent-up energy. “This is their Super Bowl game every year. Our Super Bowl is a state championship,” he quips.
But make no mistake, athletes on both sides are as focused as ever on the ultimate prize. “We are expecting them to come at us hard and to not give up against us,” Jayvon Leckelt, running back and linebacker for the Diggers, said.
As for their rivals, each senior has their eye on specific players. Moody claimed that he’s not too worried about any of Wilburton’s players, but Thomason mentioned Troy Clark, one of their major offensive assets. Leckelt identifies Jackson Moody and Kelby Thomason as players to watch out for on both sides of the ball. It’s clear that familiarity with the opponents only adds to the excitement of the rivalry.
Trash-talking and extracurriculars have long been part of the Battle of Gowen Mountain, but the seniors all share a similar mindset. “I love the trash talk and all the sign-making that goes on with those guys,” Moody chuckles. “It seems to bring a lot of built-up energy onto the field and makes it much more enjoyable beating them.”
The Diggers also acknowledge the aspects of the rivalry. “We will just let them talk their trash, it’s all about having a better mindset than your opponent,” Leckelt said.
When it comes to his mindset, Thomason emphasizes how he approaches the game. “I’m gonna stay focused, communicate with my teammates, and do my job on both sides of the football,” Thomason said. This is not just any game; it’s a battle that requires unwavering commitment and discipline.
With the hype surrounding the Battle of Gowen Mountain, all four players acknowledge the boost they get from the crowd. “We will play better with a big crowd because we don’t want to disappoint or let them down,” Leckelt said. The electric atmosphere of this rivalry game brings out the best in these athletes.
As for the game plan against Wilburton, it’s a mix of tactics and determination. Moody sums it up succinctly, stating, “We don’t really have a game plan. We are not changing anything up; we are playing football just how we play it.”
The Battle of Gowen Mountain is more than a football game; it’s a tradition that binds communities, creates memories, and for these seniors, it’s the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. As the clock continues to count down to kickoff, the excitement and anticipation in the air are undeniable. Tonight, under the Friday night lights of Southeast Oklahoma, history will be made once again on the field, in a rivalry that transcends generations.
With the battle-record split pretty evenly in the last five years (Hartshorne leads 3-2), it is anybody’s game tonight.
The Battle of Gowen Mountain is set to commence tonight at 7 p.m. at Butler-Jennings Field in Hartshorne.
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