Antioch’s Jerone Simmons, #25, can’t stop Pittsburg’s Robert Jiles, #6, after making a 42-yard touchdown pass in the 1st quarter during the 90th annual Big Little Game on Saturday, November 15, 2008 in Antioch, Calif. Pittsburg defeated Antioch 42-0. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)
There’s much on the line with Saturday’s Big Little Game featuring Antioch and Pittsburg. Both teams are undefeated in league play, making this one at Pittsburg at 1:30 p.m. winner-take-all for the BVAL championship.
There are countless stories of dramatic games, upsets and fantastic finishes in the rivalry that dates back to 1924 – enough for several books. Usually the stakes are high for at least one of the two rivals. But how often both Antioch and Pittsburg had a chance at a league championship in the Big Little Game?
Here are some recollections of a few games when stakes were high for both teams (we know there are many more):
2002 – Pittsburg 31, Antioch 21. Antioch and Pittsburg met tied for the BVAL lead, and the Panthers led 21-7 at the half, recalls Ruben Luna Jr., Antioch’s starting center that day. Luna has fonder memories of the 2001 game, which Antioch won 21-19. Luna’s father, Ruben Sr., played for Antioch teams in 1977-78 that won the BLG and went on the NCS championship game both times. Those were the last Antioch football teams to reach an NCS final, creating the inspiration for the son to follow the father to Big Little Game glory.
1991 – Pittsburg went to beat Antioch 26-20 in overtime in a game where playoff berths were on the line for both teams. Longtime Bay Area sports reporter Steve Dulas, who covered this game for the Ledger Dispatch, says of this game “It may have been the best high school game I have ever seen. You don’t often see the emotional momentum carry through for all four quarters, and then into overtime.”
A diving catch by Percy McGee of a Chris Shipe pass gave the Pirates the win.
“They sold out of 10,000; they wouldn’t let anyone else in … it was amazing,” said Herc Pardi, who was in his first year as head coach at Pittsburg. Pardi recalled a standout defensive play by future Oakland Raider Regan Upshaw that set up the overtime touchdown.
Pittsburg went to beat De La Salle in the NCS 3A championship game, to this date the last time a Northern California team has beaten De La Salle.
1984 – Antioch 18, Pittsburg 6: Heading into this game, Antioch had one loss, and in winning this BLG handed Pittsburg its first defeat on a rainy field in Antioch. This created a three-way in the DVAL with Antioch, Pittsburg and Northgate. Pardi recalls that a coin-flip left Pittsburg as the odd team out, with Antioch and Northgate moving on to NCS. The result was tough for Pittsburg after going into the BLG as undefeated league leaders, and the end result of not going to NCS.
1970 – Antioch 40, Pittsburg 32. After a loss to Ygnacio Valley earlier in the season, Antioch came back and won this BLG. Tom Lamothe, coordinator of Antioch Sports Legends, recalls this shooting between future BYU quarterback Gary Sheide of Antioch and Pittsburg QB Steve Camitz.
1966 – Antioch 13, Pittsburg 13: Both teams headed into this Big Little Game undefeated. This one was staged the next-to-last week of the regular season, says Pittsburg football historian Bob Lewis, the city’s former mayor. It was Lewis’ senior year, and he recalls the game like it was yesterday.
Going into the game, Antioch had last won the BLG in 1947, before any of the current players in ’66 were born. The Diablo Valley Athletic League title was at stake. Antioch scored twice to take a 13-0 halftime lead, and Pittsburg’s star running back Carlos Harris suffered what was thought to be a sprained ankle.
On the second play of the second half, Harris, whose ankle was taped up at halftime, ran 62-yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 13-7. “Then Harris collapsed in the end zone. It turned out it was a broken ankle, not a sprained ankle. So he ran 62 yards on a broken ankle,” Lewis recalls. Pittsburg scored a second touchdown in the fourth quarter, but a holding call during the point-after on Pittsburg led to a missed kick and a 13-13 tie.
The following week, Antioch beat Pacifica and won the DVAL title, finishing the regular season 8-0-1. Pittsburg still finished undefeated at 7-0-2, but took its second tie that final week 0-0 against Pleasant Hill High, playing without Harris and then losing quarterback Butch Cattolico — who went to a fabled career as coach at Los Gatos High for 36 years– to a concussion.
– After a 6-6 tie in 1968, the pendulum swung Antioch’s way in the rivalry, with 11 straight wins from 1969 to 1979, during the heyday of legendary Panthers coach Marv Comstock. When Larry Rodriguez (later the first varsity coach at Freedom) took over the Pittsburg program, the Pirates seized back control for much of the 1980s.
– More recently, Antioch scored a 27-21 double overtime win in 2006, and Pittsburg has since won the last nine meetings, including one in the 2011 NCS playoffs.
–Last year’s 17-14 Pittsburg win was the closest margin of victory since Antioch’s 21-19 win in 2001.