It’s the one night a year nothing else matters in Ahwatukee.
Records are thrown out the window. Friendships are put on hold. Some remain neutral, while others focus on one thing: Beat Desert Vista High School or beat Mountain Pointe.
“I don’t think any single game rivalry anywhere in Arizona can match the intensity of the Tukee Bowl,” said Desert Vista first-year principal Michael Deignan in an email. “Having experienced it as a community member before taking this position, and now being part of it as the principal, I have a whole new perspective on it.
“The game is part of the fabric of Ahwatukee.”
His school and Mountain Pointe will face off for the 23rd time on Friday, Oct. 11, at Thunder Stadium. This year’s game will break the tie between the two schools, as both have 11 wins in this series dating back to 1997.
Game time is 7 p.m.
"I haven't seen a rivalry of this caliber in high school," Mountain Pointe Principal Tomika Banks said. "The Tukee Bowl always brings a buzz of excitement to both the schools involved.
"Anytime we play each other in anything, the campus is buzzing."
The rivalry between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe has come to light as one of the best the state has to offer. It may not be as old as others, but it certainly brings high emotions and tense battles yearly.
Desert Vista dominated from 1998-2008, winning all but one matchup in 2004.
Since then, however, the Thunder have just two wins against Mountain Pointe. Most of that stretch came when the Pride were led by former coach Norris Vaughan and was one of the state’s powerhouse programs.
The Thunder’s most recent victory over Mountain Pointe came last season in Rich Wellbrock’s first season as the Pride’s coach.
A miraculous throw and catch from Desert Vista quarterback Parker Navarro to wideout Dominic Shepardson late in the fourth quarter sealed the game for the Thunder and gave them the win for the first time in six years and the chance to host the Ahwatukee Bowl Trophy, presented by the Ahwatukee Foothills News.
“I’ve listened to some fantastic stories about past games and really enjoyed learning about the rivalry,” Deignan wrote. “It really doesn’t matter what current team records are as this game comes up on the schedule. Both schools will bring their ‘A’ game because it’s the Tukee Bowl!”
Outcomes like that aren’t uncommon in rivalry games, especially one of that magnitude that draws most of the Ahwatukee community.
Arizona has become a hotbed for strong prep football rivalries. And it all started in 1906 in the southern end of the state.
Bisbee High School and Douglas High School lined up against one another for the 150th time in August. The two schools from small mining towns play for the coveted Copper Pick, the trophy given to the winner of the game each year.
“It starts on that Monday, both small towns know it’s the Pick Week,” said Angel Ortega, Douglas High School’s athletic director. “The atmosphere for the game is different compared to other games in the regular season. Both towns know there’s something bigger at stake.”
Ortega hasn’t ever witnessed an Ahwatukee Bowl game himself, but he’s heard plenty about the game from relatives who have. The two rivalries are alike in several ways, one of which is the number of fans that attend.
Residents of Douglas and Bisbee flood the stands whenever the two schools meet. It’s as much of a big-game atmosphere as any, despite being secluded in the far southern end of the state.
“Thousands fill the stadium no matter where it’s at,” Ortega said. “I’ve been a part of this game as an assistant coach and being on the sideline, it’s a whole different experience.”
Big games that bring together an entire community or towns for one night is what rivalries are all about.
That remains the case in the eastern part of the state as well, especially when Blue Ridge and Show Low high schools meet on the gridiron.
“It’s really funny, I think the rivalry is brought to an extreme by the adults more than the kids,” said Robert London, Blue Ridge’s athletic director and head football coach. “I don’t know if its them wanting to re-live their glory days or what.”
Separated by just over 10 miles, the rivalry between Blue Ridge and Show Low hasn’t lost its luster despite both teams having players that see one another on multiple occasions in different sports throughout the year.
London said the kids still play hard against each other, but they’ve also built relationships, too.
For years, the matchup between Blue Ridge and Show Low often decided which 3A power would go on to win the conference title at the end of the season. On several occasions, both teams entered the game undefeated.
Two teams with high expectations is the case with several rivalries across the state, including here in the Valley between Chandler and Hamilton.
“The Battle for Arizona Avenue” at one point was owned by the Huskies, who dominated for over a decade. However, a resurgence by Chandler under former coach Shaun Aguano gave the Wolves momentum.
“I think ‘The Battle for Arizona Avenue’ ranks right there up at the top with the other rivalries around the state,” said Marcus Williams, the athletic director for Chandler Unified School District.
“Communities get together to cheer on their teams in their community for ‘bragging rights’ for that year and to shine a light on positive happenings in their community,” Williams said, adding:
“I feel all rivalries are special in many ways specific to the communities in which they reside.”
Chandler-Hamilton is just one of the many rivalries amongst the bigger schools in the state that have playoff and even championship implications on the line nearly every season.
Williams Field and Higley have met several times both in the regular season and deep in the playoffs. Liberty and Sunrise Mountain in Peoria draws standing-room-only crowds on a yearly basis.
“The Battle for Brown Road” between Red Mountain and Mountain View, as well as the matchup between Skyline and Desert Ridge to be crowned the “Kings of Crismon” create an electric buzz in East Mesa. Flagstaff-Coconino, St Johns-Round Valley, McClintock-Tempe, Marcos de Niza-Corona del Sol and Nogales-Rio Rico are all classic rivalries around the state.
Just about every school in the state has its designated rival, and all create an atmosphere unlike any other once a year. Whether teams enter with a winning record or losing, most of the time each one ends up being close.
After all, nothing else matters when you’re playing for bragging rights. And the Ahwatukee Bowl is no different.