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New region ignites old grid rivalry

Perhaps the best thing to come of the new prep region realignment is the renewal of the Provo/Orem football and basketball rivalry.

The football side of that revival begins Friday night when the Bulldogs travel the short distance to Tigers Field. It will be the first time the two teams have played since 1996, which was also the last time the two were in the same region. Orem won that game 28-14.

Over the years, however, the teams have played 50 previous times with the Tigers leading the series 27-22-1. Orem has won four of the past five meetings. Provo won the only overtime game between the two, 48-41 in double OT in 1984. These rivals met in 1968 for the Class A championship, the largest classification at the time, with the Tigers prevailing 28-7. There have been years when the game was moved to BYU's football field to accommodate the large crowd.

Provo coach Clint Christiansen, Orem coach Robert Steele, and their teams are excited to get that kind of rivalry going again. Both expect a big crowd on hand Friday night as the bitter battle resumes.

"As many games that you can think of as big games helps add excitement and brings a lot more interest to the field," Steele said.

Christiansen, in his second year at Provo's helm, has not been around as long as Steele, but he's done his historical research on the series.

"It might have been the biggest rivalry in the state," Christiansen said. "And I'm sure this will be the biggest stage our kids have ever played on. Hopefully, we can prove that we're a better football team than people give us credit for."

Orem, behind a huge and talented line, is expected to challenge for the Region 7 title. But if Provo, a much improved team, comes to town and pulls off the upset, the entire region mind set could change.

"We can really set a tone with this game. We just need to play an entire game and not just a couple of good quarters," Christiansen said.

The Tigers have a committee of running backs that are dangerous and a great receiver in Bryan Gonzales. But defense is the Tigers' staple. They rush the passer well and don't budge much up front with Ryan Freeman and Zek Wiley. Steele likes how his team matches up against the Bulldogs, even though he says Provo runs the ball well, is quick and has a talented quarterback in Warner Jarman. Clearly, the Bulldogs are not the same team as the one that took the field the past two seasons.

"They're getting a lot better," Steele said.

Christiansen, with a line that averages about 270 pounds, also feels his team matches up well with the Tigers.

"They're big, they're physical, they have good speed and they play good defense. We're just hoping our option can keep them off balance and guessing," Christiansen said. "But if they shut our option down we're in trouble."

The Bulldogs have a few nicks and scrapes, but all key players will suit up. The Tigers might be without defensive star Gavin Jones, but for the most part the Tigers are also the healthiest they've been this season. Neither team can blame injuries if they play poorly. Rayburn's pick: Orem

MOUNTAIN VIEW AT PLEASANT GROVE: The Vikings are keeping games close, but the Bruins seem to win most of the close ones. Maybe it's because they have Brian Smith, or just a good ball-control offense. Rayburn's pick: Mountain View

SPRINGVILLE AT LEHI: The Pioneers want to forget last week's embarrassing outing. Unfortunately for them, the Red Devils see this as a game they can finally win. Rayburn's pick: Springville

TIMPANOGOS AT AMERICAN FORK: The T-Wolves are so banged up that they'll be way overmatched in this one. We could see a replay of what happened at the Cavemen's place last week. Rayburn's pick: American Fork

PAYSON AT TIMPVIEW: The T-Birds might be a bit tired from their Hawaiian vacation, but even a tired Timpview team is better than this up-and-coming Payson bunch. But it should be closer than last year. Rayburn's pick: Timpview

SPANISH FORK AT LONE PEAK: Before the season this was supposed to be a dandy. It still could be, but the Dons haven't shown enough size and skill in the trenches to compete with the big and strong Knights. Rayburn's pick: Lone Peak

RAYBURN'S RECORD: Last week — 3-3; Season — 22-10


E-mail: jimr@desnews.com