'It’s about pride of the West side.' Coronado, Franklin set to clash for El Paso bragging rights

El Paso Franklin scores a touchdown against Odessa Permian (Photo by Ron King)

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El Paso Coronado coach Bob Anderson has a unique perspective on El Paso’s Westside Bowl, the annual meeting between rivals Coronado and Franklin. While he’s been Coronado’s head coach since 2012, he’s been in El Paso ISD so long that he was part of the staff that opened Frankin in the early 1990s.

“I think I’m the only one left in the area who has his name on that trophy,” he said.

Having coached at both schools, Anderson knows as much about the rivalry as anyone else.

“We were the new kids on the block back then,” he said about opening Franklin. “At that time, everyone in this part of the district had been going to Coronado. The first year we met, they really wanted to put it to the new school, and it’s still that way.

“It’s like a lot of big rivalries,” he continued. “The players on both teams are all best friends. They hang out together all year long. But not this week. This week it gets really testy on both sides, both the players and the fans.”

How testy? Try Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma or the Big Game between Ohio State and Michigan.

“Last year, their team came out of the tunnel and I thought we were going to have one of those brawls like you see before the Texas-OU or Michigan-Ohio State game,” Anderson said. “Everyone was in the middle of the field yelling at each other. That never really happens any other time. Today you also have the social media stuff. Kids get on there and say something before the game, and that spills over into it too.”

Franklin coach Daren Walker has seen his share of Westside Bowls as well. He took the reins at Franklin in 2007 and has a 7-5 mark in the rivalry – he’s 7-2 since an 0-3 start. Both schools are on El Paso’s west side – hence the name – and the annual meeting serves as a showcase game for each program, one with a trophy and bragging rights on the line.

“It’s one of those rivalries you really want to be a part of,” Walker said. “We get about 17,000 fans at the game – we have to play it at the Sun Bowl (stadium) because neither of our on-campus stadiums can hold that many people.”

Walker agrees with Anderson. Geography makes the rivalry intense. Though the students go to rival high schools, many of them grew up together and went to elementary and middle school together.

“These two schools are maybe two or three miles from each other,” Walker said. “These kids all went to school together, played Pop Warner football together. They know each other and that’s what really makes it fun. You have a lot of respect for your rival, but this week we aren’t friends. You want to prove you’re the better team.

“When you say Westside Bowl, everyone understands,” Walker said. “And they get excited. It’s not just the football team. It’s every other team and all of the students. Everyone is involved.”

That whole-school involvement was something Walker needed to experience for himself. He admits that when he took the Franklin job after coaching at El Paso Chapin, he was more interested in helping Franklin get past Montwood, which had won the district title several years running.

“I wanted to make that our rivalry,” he said about his first year at Franklin. “Then we lose 21-20 to Coronado. We dropped a pass in the end zone to lose the game. Back then, they didn’t stop fans from running onto the field. We lose by one and all of a sudden we are surrounded by thousands of kids. That’s probably my biggest memory.”

After that initial game, Walker turned his attention on Coronado. Franklin’s players began the tradition of dying their hair blonde for the game, and their golden locks will be on display again this year.

How badly do the teams want to win this game? Not much else matters on either side. Coronado won seven games last year, their best win total since 2013. One of the wins wasn’t against Franklin.

“Last year we finished the regular season 7-3 and were second in the district,” Anderson said. “But the kids were disgusted because we lost to Franklin. It just means more. You can try and say it’s just another game, but it’s devastating when you lose it.”

The trophy travels with the winning team. After the game, players parade it through the Sun Bowl, taking it through the student section and then the parents. It usually lives in the winning team’s locker room. There’s a Stanley Cup feel to it for the winners.

“You carry it around the stadium when you win,” Walker said. “You share it with your student body, you pass it around. But you have to win it to touch it. That’s a big deal. It speaks for itself. Our kids take a lot of pride in keeping it in our locker room.”

Franklin holds the trophy by virtue of last year’s 44-0 win. Coronado had won a thriller in 2017 to get its hands on the trophy for the first time since 2013.

“That game went down to the wire,” Anderson said. “We were down until they kicked off to Jose Luis Herrera and he ran it all the way back and scored.”

Herrera’s 98-yard kick return and two-point conversion tied the game at 28, and his short touchdown run with two minutes left proved to be the winner after two Franklin passes into the end zone fell incomplete in the waning seconds.

The 2019 meeting sees the two teams going in opposite directions. Franklin enters 5-1 but stinging from a surprising loss to Americas.

“We really want to get off the schneid after last week,” Walker said. “We had beaten Permian for the first time [49-28 on Sept. 5], which was big. To lay an egg last week was tough.”

Anderson doesn’t have any sympathy for his rival. His Thunderbirds have been close but not close enough in several games and bring a 1-5 mark into the meeting.

“We have a good team, but we don’t have much depth,” Anderson said. “If we play hard, we’ll have a chance. We’ve been battling, we just need to finish a game.”

Perhaps this is the week the Thunderbirds put it together. Perhaps the Cougars do indeed get back off the schneid. After all, it’s a rivalry week and records really don’t matter.

“It’s your rival,” Walker said. “It’s about pride of the west side. You want to be able to brag about that for the next 365 days.”

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