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Can Los Banos end 10-year drought to rival Dos Palos?

LOS BANOS -- Dennis Stubbs couldn't escape it. The grocery store. Starbucks. The gas station. The donut shop.

Wherever he went, the question was always the same -- Are we going to beat Dos Palos?

And that was back in January. Nine months before anybody put on pads.

It took only about a week after he was hired as the Los Banos football coach for Stubbs to lose count of how many times he was asked the question.

"If I went around town to get a soda or grab something to eat, that's the question I heard," Stubbs said. "There was always some reference of beating Dos Palos.

"I can't go anywhere without somebody asking if we're going to beat Dos Palos."

The "Westside War" hasn't been much of a war at all recently.

Dos Palos has owned a decade worth of bragging rights with 10 straight wins over Los Banos.

Dos Palos will try to make it 11 in a row on Friday.

The two teams will play each other for the 68th time since 1925. Dos Palos holds the all-time series edge 39-22-6.

A standing room crowd of close to 10,000 people are expected to show up at Loftin Stadium.

People who graduated from the schools, some residing in distant cities like Bakersfield and San Jose, make the trip back home to catch this game.

"People start calling to wish you luck early in the week," Dos Palos coach Mike Sparks said. "You get more and more calls as the week goes by.

"Class reunions are planned around the Dos Palos-Los Banos game. It's a big event for both communities."

How thirsty is Los Banos to end the streak?

"It's like this town is dehydrated, that's how bad they want to see us win," said Los Banos senior Joe Macias.

"I'll do anything just to win this game. Well, anything within the laws of the state."

If you walk around Los Banos this week, it's easy to see the town is obsessed with beating their neighboring town.

All you have to do is talk to the mayor.

"We are so desperate to end the streak," Tommy Jones said. "I'm about ready to go out and put a uniform on myself."

Jones knows all about the streak.

He was an assistant coach for 12 years in the Los Banos program before becoming mayor this year.

"This is the biggest game of all," Jones said. "It sets the tone for the whole season. If you lose, sometimes you never get over it."

Jones hopes to have more luck than former Los Banos mayor Michael Amabile.

For the past 10 years, the mayors of the two towns have made friendly wagers on the game.

Amabile lost the bet every time.

"The losing mayor had to go up to the podium during the other city's city council meeting and congratulate the other team during public forum," Amabile said.

"They'd have a Bronco jersey and hat for me. They really put me through the ringer.

"One year, they had their cheerleaders doing their routine behind me. They had their pom poms going. They tried to embarass me as much as possible."

For many fans of each school, this is it.

"It's the season," said Los Banos athletic director Gary Caropreso, who graduated from Los Banos in 1967 and coached at the high school close to 30 years.

"Some old-timers, all they want to do is beat Dos Palos. I don't know if Dennis realized how big it was until he got here."

What would a win mean for Los Banos?

Simply put, a huge shot in the arm for a coach trying to jumpstart a program that hasn't won a league title since winning the Valley Oak League in 1997.

"You're talking about one of the best programs in the state of California and one of the most successful programs in the state," Stubbs said.

"Dos Palos' kids believe in what they're doing and they expect to win. That's what we're trying to build here."

Stubbs has seen his share of rivalry games.

He was an assistant coach at Merced and has been apart of Santa Fe Bowl games against Atwater.

He coached Le Grand against Mariposa.

He coached at Golden Valley for 12 years and was on the sideline during the battle for the Mayor's Cup against Merced.

However, Stubbs can tell this is different.

"The Merced-Golden Valley rivalry is a new rivalry and its friendly," Stubbs said. "This rivalry has been going for 69 years.

"They had a rally on Sunday where both teams were introduced. The crowds were going back and forth. Someone from Dos Palos would start a cheer and then somebody from Los Banos.

"It was a great experience. It's the biggest show in town."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com">sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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