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Bear River-Box Elder football rivalry hits the century mark on Friday in another battle for the Golden Spike

The rivalry has been played uninterrupted for the past 100 years

Bear River defensive lineman Logan Knudsen (72) moves in to help a teammate tackle Box Elder quarterback Parker Buchanan (14) in last year’s battle for the Golden Spike.
Courtesy John Fronk

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the state’s oldest football rivalries both hit the century mark this season, beginning with the Bear River-Box Elder tussle this Friday in the battle for the Golden Spike.

Payson and Spanish Fork will meet in their 100th game in early October.

The two rivalries are tied for the second-longest in state history behind only the 112 games played between East and West — but those schools haven’t played since 2012.

For longtime Tremonton resident Harry Gephart, 85, he’s experienced firsthand the majority of those rivalry games dating back to when he was in grade school during World War II.

“I’ve always bled red. From the time I was in grade school when we would walk up to ball games when they played against Logan and Box Elder,” said Gephart.

Gephart is intertwined in so much of the history of Bear River football, having played for the team in 1951 and 1952, and then serving as the radio play-by-play voice of Bear River from 1983 to 2013 before retiring. And then supporting the team as a local business owner for decades in between.

One of his earliest memories of the county rivalry was that larger Box Elder, “always seemed to cream us.”

It’s evident in the series history as well as Box Elder leads Bear River 71-26-2, with the Bees dominating the early years of the rivalry. It’s a rivalry that has been uninterrupted for the past century.

Box Elder has won eight of the past nine meetings, including a 54-34 win last year in the highest-scoring game in rivalry history.

Bear River and Box Elder play in the 2019 battle for the Golden Spike. The Bees won, 54-34, and own a 71-26-2 series lead, including victories in eight of their past nine meetings with the Bears.
Courtesy John Fronk

Because of COVID-19, Gephart and his wife Rhonda will watch the game on their computers this year — a rare night indeed that he’ll miss a Golden Spike game. Because of crowd restrictions, it’s how many other residents will have to watch as well.

Gephart’s fondest memory calling the rivalry on the radio came in 2004. Bear River was coming off a 3A state championship season, but its only loss that year was against 4A’s Box Elder in a 37-7 setback in week 3.

Bear River trailed 8-6 at the half, but quarterback Jason Zundel gave his team a 13-8 lead with a TD pass in the third quarter and then stretched it to 20-8 early in the fourth quarter.

Box Elder cut it to 20-15 in the fourth, but the Bear River made some clutch defensive plays to seal the win.

“It came down to the last minute. It was touch and go. We got a couple of huge defensive plays by the Bears,” said Gephart.

Bear River finished that season with an undefeated record and another 3A state title.

As a player, Gephart never beat Box Elder, but his team came very close during his 1952 senior season.

His coach at the time, Howard “Tuff” Linford, knew his players would have a hard time matching Box Elder’s physicality in the trenches that year. Bees coach Earl Ferguson, who coached for 39 years from 1921 to 1959, always had great teams as he won six state titles during that stretch. Box Elder’s stadium is named after Ferguson.

To try and compete against another stacked Ferguson team, first-year Bear River coach Linford drew up a play called “Oopie” for the game, which was designed to get the ball in the hands of Oopie Fronk. In reality it was just a screen pass, with the offensive line letting Box Elder’s lineman have a free run at QB Rolfe Kerr, who then lobbed a little 10-yard pass to Fronk.

It resulted in five touchdowns, but Bear River still lost 40-34.

“I remember the stands were overflowing. Standing-room only down the sidelines. It seems like everyone in Box Elder County was there. It was one we came close but no cigar,” said Gephart.

It was a sign of things to come for Kerr as he went on to play quarterback at Utah State.

Box Elder is 0-3 going into this year’s meeting, while Bear River is 2-1 but coming off a loss at Bonneville.

But as Gephart always says, “Records don’t mean anything when the Bees and the Bears play, they just play all out.”


Golden Spike series history

(Box Elder leads 71-26-2)

1923 — Box Elder, 51-0

1924 — Box Elder, 68-0

1925 — Box Elder, 38-0

1926 — Box Elder, 44-0

1927 — Tie, 6-6

1928 — Box Elder, 52-0

1929 — Box Elder, 7-0

1930 — Box Elder, 32-0

1931 — Box Elder, 40-0

1932 — Bear River, 7-0

1933 — Box Elder, 25-0

1934 — Box Elder, 26-0

1935 — Box Elder, 26-0

1936 — Box Elder, 20-0

1937 — Bear River, 6-0

1938 — Bear River, 7-6

1939 — Box Elder, 48-0

1940 — Box Elder, 24-7

1941 — Box Elder, 25-6

1942 — Box Elder, 28-6

1943 — Box Elder, 47-0

1944 — Box Elder, 14-0

1945 — Box Elder, 66-0

1946 — Box Elder, 52-4

1947 — Box Elder, 41-0

1948 — Box Elder, 19-7

1949 — Box Elder, 20-6

1950 — Box Elder, 44-21

1951 — Box Elder, 28-0

1952 — Box Elder, 40-34

1953 — Box Elder, 13-0

1954 — Bear River, 24-14

1955 — Bear River, 6-0

1956 — Box Elder, 21-13

1957 — Box Elder, 33-0

1958 — Box Elder, 20-6

1959 — Box Elder, 14-6

1960 — Bear River, 7-0

1960 — Box Elder, 13-0

1961 — Box Elder, 20-7

1962 — Tie, 13-13

1962 — Box Elder, 7-0

1963 — Box Elder, 12-6

1964 — Box Elder, 28-6

1965 — Box Elder, 7-6

1966 — Box Elder, 25-7

1967 — Box Elder, 32-0

1968 — Box Elder, 32-0

1969 — Box Elder, 19-14

1970 — Box Elder, 33-21

1971 — Box Elder, 14-7

1972 — Bear River, 11-7

1973 — Box Elder, 48-22

1974 — Bear River, 21-20

1975 — Box Elder, 41-12

1976 — Bear River, 10-8

1977 — Box Elder, 49-15

1978 — Bear River, 21-20

1979 — Box Elder, 31-0

1980 — Box Elder, 14-13

1981 — Bear River, 21-12

1982 — Bear River, 10-7

1983 — Bear River, 17-0

1984 — Box Elder, 16-6

1985 — Bear River, 39-15

1986 — Bear River, 22-6

1987 — Bear River, 32-19

1988 — Box Elder, 46-21

1989 — Box Elder, 37-7

1990 — Bear River, 18-13

1991 — Box Elder, 41-13

1992 — Box Elder, 34-19

1993 — Bear River, 15-14

1994 — Bear River, 15-12

1995 — Box Elder, 33-30

1996 — Box Elder, 36-29

1997 — Box Elder, 42-3

1998 — Box Elder, 34-13

1999 — Bear River, 33-0

2000 — Box Elder, 56-20

2001 — Box Elder, 45-6

2002 — Box Elder, 45-22

2003 — Box Elder, 37-7

2004 — Bear River, 20-15

2005 — Box Elder, 20-17

2006 — Box Elder, 41-33

2007 — Box Elder, 21-7

2008 — Bear River, 20-16

2009 — Box Elder, 17-14

2010 — Bear River, 20-19

2011 — Box Elder, 23-6

2012 — Box Elder, 42-0

2013 — Box Elder, 55-28

2014 — Box Elder, 34-25

2015 — Box Elder, 42-6

2016 — Box Elder, 20-6

2017 — Bear River, 19-0

2018 — Box Elder, 29-7

2019 — Box Elder, 54-34