OKANOGAN – The Backyard Brawl rivalry football game between Okanogan and Omak is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18.
The two teams last met Nov. 1, 2019, when Omak won, 41-13, at home and claimed the Okanogan-Omak Rotary Club trophy and mid-valley gridiron bragging rights.
“We’re really excited to be able to host this year,” said Okanogan Athletic Director Kevin Daling.
“We are thankful to be able to play the game this year,” said Omak Athletic Director Joe LaGrou. “Games between Omak and Okanogan are exciting to watch.”
A pre-game tailgate party, hosted by Pete Peterson Plumbing, Okanogan, is planned in the south end zone at 5:30 p.m. Fans can choose hot dog or hamburger meals, with chips, dessert and a drink. A fee will be charged.
The end of October or early November usually brings the Backyard Brawl, but this year’s contest falls early in the season with the teams having just one or two games under their belts.
Last school year, because of COVID-19, the football season was delayed statewide until March and April. When the planned March 5, 2021, rivalry game rolled around, COVID-19 again was the victor when a positive case associated with the Omak team scuttled the contest.
Omak and Okanogan high schools’ football teams have been playing since 1911, with a few missed games along the way because of illness, World War I and changes in league membership.
The teams met three times in 1911. Omak won 12-2 and 32-0, while Okanogan won its game 2-0 in that first season of the rivalry.
There was an invitation by Okanogan to play Omak in a town-team competition in 1908, but there were not enough players in Omak. Oroville sent down players for the Thanksgiving game.
A few interruptions in the adjacent town rivalry came during the first few decades, with no games in 1912 or 1918. A combination of World War I and sickness nixed the 1918 game.
No information could be found for a game in 1916. There were no games in 1921 and 1922.
The teams played at least once every year from 1923 to 1996.
Omak holds the edge in the rivalry with 73 wins to Okanogan’s 67. There have been eight ties.
Neither team has ever won more than seven straight years, although there was a longer game stretch in 1947-52 when Omak won nine games, thanks to two-games-per-year schedules in some years.
Okanogan won seven straight years from 2011-2017, and six straight times from 1968-70, when the teams played twice each year. Omak won six straight times in 1965-67 and nine straight in 1947 to 1952, again with multiple games per year.
There have been two overtime games, a single overtime game in 1990 with Okanogan prevailing 24-28 and a triple overtime matchup in 2006, the first year the game was dubbed the Backyard Brawl, when Okanogan won 20-17.
The rivalry has seen plenty of upsets, with the most recent possibly being in 2000. That’s when Okanogan beat Omak, 34-14. Both teams were ranked in state but with Okanogan in the 1A ranks while Omak was in 2A.
Okanogan lost its only game of the year to Royal in the state quarterfinals after being ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press 1A poll. Omak, ranked seventh in the final 2A poll with two losses, edged Othello in double overtime in the state semifinals before winning the 2000 state 2A championship.
When Omak played in 2A in 1997 and 1998, there were no games. The teams played again in 1999 and 2000, with Okanogan winning both games.
From 2003-2005, the teams did not meet.
The longstanding post-game wheelbarrow ride tradition began decades ago with the losing team’s mayor giving the winning team’s mayor a wheelbarrow ride the length of the field.
The format was changed later to involve the high school principals instead of the mayors, who at the time were aging and not suited to the possibility of pushing a loaded wheelbarrow that far.
-Former Sports Editor Al Camp did much of the historical research for this story.