Battle for the Rock celebrates golden anniversary

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Eric Schmoldt
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Nov. 11, 1967, Dave Kumlien and Mike McDaniels squared off in the first football game between Janesville Parker and Janesville Craig. Then, they dined together with their families and rehashed the game.

Fast forward 50 years, and it’s likely that any chatter between the Cougars and Vikings about the golden anniversary of the battle for Monterey Rock will take place via tweets and text messages.

Yes, “The Rock” has certainly seen a little bit of everything in its 50 years.

It began with two football programs still under one roof.

It has helped propel Janesville Craig and Janesville Parker to Big Eight Conference titles—though, notably, the rivalry game has never truly been played with the title on the line.

The “Rock” provided legendary Craig football, basketball and baseball coach Bob Suter some of his highest points and one of his lowest. And it was once hoisted by the Cougars for 14 straight years.

Then Parker took it back in eight of the following 10 seasons as part of the rise of a Vikings program that made the playoffs 15 straight years.

Officially, Craig holds a 30-20 advantage in the all-time series. And any athlete who has ever put on a Cougars or Vikings jersey can probably tell you the exact score of those rivalry games in which they played.

“Some of the best adrenaline rushes I’ve ever gotten came in a Craig-Parker game,” said Paul Foster, a 2013 Craig grad who went on to win two NCAA Division III national championships at UW-Whitewater. “We lost my junior year and then won my senior year, so I’ve seen both sides.

“Fighting for ‘The Rock’ during football season, when you’re that age and living in Janesville, that’s pretty much all that matters to you.”

Friendly beginnings

McDaniels and the Vikings got the better of Kumlien and the Cougars in that first meeting back in 1967, winning 32-7.

Their families’ dinner party was chronicled in The Gazette along with the game story, and the players made it clear the beginning of the rivalry was not all that heated.

“It just didn’t seem like a rivalry,” Kumlien said. “Not while we’re in the same building, anyway.”

Parker High’s building had not yet been completed, so Craig students attended classes in their building in the morning, and Parker students came in at noon.

Parker lineman Gary Worden produced a bit of foreshadowing when he said, “I don’t think there will be a real rivalry for a couple of years yet. It’ll probably be when this year’s sophomore become seniors and the junior high kids get up here.”

By the start of the next season, Parker students had their own building ... and a second rivalry victory. The Vikings beat the Cougars 25-0, holding them to just 18 total yards and zero first downs in Suter’s first year as head football coach.

“That was not a highlight of my career,” Suter said last week when reflecting on the crosstown rivalry series. “Let alone a touchdown, we didn’t even get a first down. I’ll never forget that. I was ashamed and felt bad for our kids.”

The Cougars got their revenge a year later. Craig scored two first-half touchdowns and held on late for a 14-13 victory that stunned Parker in the final game of the season. That day, Suter called it “the greatest thing that’s ever happened to our football program” and called it a coming of age.

Craig went out and proved that in 1970. It used the momentum from the Parker victory to put together a 5-1 Big Eight Conference record, clinching Janesville’s first conference football championship since 1942. Craig clinched at least a share of the title by routing longtime rival Beloit, 37-8, in the season finale. Two weeks earlier, Craig had beaten Parker, 12-7, to get to 4-0 in league play and to knot the crosstown rivalry series at two games apiece.

Those first four years clearly set the stage in the battle for “The Rock.” And the series went and forth like that for its first 16 seasons, with each team winning eight games.

Craig seizes control

During the 1980s and early 90s, Craig quite simply owned “The Rock.”

Beginning with a 13-6 victory in 1983, the Cougars won 14 consecutive meetings. The first four were all decided by nine points or less, but between 1987 and 1994, the Vikings scored a total of 20 points and were shut out five times over the course of eight meetings.

No meeting during that span was more dramatic than when Parker appeared on the way to ending the streak in 1995. The Vikings led 12-8 with just a couple minutes left.

But Matt Berlowski stunned Parker by returning a punt 52 yards for a touchdown with 2:37 remaining, and Craig won 16-12.

“Probably one of my most painful memories of a Parker-Craig game,” Parker coach Joe Dye said last week. “We had it done, and the last thing I said was to make sure we get the ball punted out of bounds, and we didn’t.”

As longtime coaches on either side of the city, Dye and Suter spent years attempting to help their players—who were understandably excited about the rivalry meetings—understand that it was just one game on the schedule.

“It used to always be Janesville and Beloit, going way back. But when Parker was established, that automatically became your big rival,” Suter said. “We always had some fierce battles, but I think we always respected our opponents.

“We always looked at it as you can’t be a conference champion unless you’re a city champion, so that made the Craig-Parker game a little more special.”

“There was always so much energy that surrounded the Parker-Craig games, and that was fun. The kids were just always amped for it,” Dye said. “I always told them that it only counts one in the column, and as soon as it counts for two (games), then we’ll make it a bigger deal.”

Parker turns the tables

Two years after the heartbreaking punt return, Parker ended Craig’s crosstown winning streak at 14 years.

Matt Mohr ran 32 times for 113 yards, and the Vikings held on for a 10-6 victory.

“The kids knew about ‘The Rock’ and what it stood for, but we were real low-key about the whole thing all week long,” Dye told The Gazette’s John Barry that night. “Now that it’s back on the west side, we hope to start a streak of our own.”

Indeed, Parker went on to win seven of the next eight meetings with Craig. The Vikings won four of their five Big Eight titles during that span, though, again, beating Craig never sealed a conference crown for the Vikings. When they won their first league title in 2000, Parker beat Craig 27-19 to open the season.

Recent memory

Current Parker head football coach Clayton Kreger was a part of those conference championship-winning teams from the early 2000s, so he has seen the rivalry from both sides.

Since the Vikings’ 7-1 stretch, Craig owns a slight 7-5 edge over the past 12 years, and Kreger feels something in the rivalry has shifted.

“A lot has changed, in my opinion,” Kreger said. “When I was a student, we didn’t have cellphones, didn’t have Twitter. So honestly, we didn’t really know the Craig guys.

“I don’t know if it’s social media or what it is, but now all the Parker guys know the Craig guys and the Craig guys know the Parker guys. And it’s still a good battle, and we want to win it, but they know each other. They grew up playing baseball together, and it’s more of just a pride thing. For us, it was a big rival that we didn’t really know those guys and we just wanted to go out and destroy them.”

Foster agreed but said that having grown up playing on the same youth teams as his future Parker adversaries made the game that much more fun.

“A lot of the guys I played against in high school were and are still my best friends,” he said. “Jokingly, we trash-talk each other. But at the end of the day, for the most part, we’re all good friends.”

Parker ended Craig’s modest four-game winning streak in the rivalry last year, winning 34-14.

Conference championships have become tougher to come by in recent years for the Janesville programs. Each team has made the playoffs just once since 2011. During seasons when postseason aspirations are no longer on the line, if Craig and Parker meet late in the schedule, it keeps the teams motivated.

“If you’re not having as many wins as you’d like in a season and you have a pretty good idea you’re not going to be in the playoffs or going to state, that game becomes your Super Bowl and kind of defines your season,” Foster said. “If you have a bad season and you lose to Parker, it’s a pretty tough year.”

You can bet, even in the lean years, the winning players still let the losing side hear about it.

It’s just that, 50 years later, those words reach each other across a cellular network and not a dinner table.

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