Brick for brick, the schools are nearly identical. Located 5 minutes apart, Edison and Fountain Valley high schools were built in the late 1960s during a peak housing boom in which tomato and strawberry fields turned into housing tracts.
The schools blossomed into two of the largest public schools west of the Mississippi River. They met on the football field for the first time in 1969 and almost instantly a rivalry was born.
Newly opened Edison, playing without a senior class, upset Fountain Valley, 21-20, knocking the Barons out of the postseason playoffs. In just 9 years, the series outgrew every high school stadium in Orange County to the point where the teams moved into Anaheim Stadium.
The rivalry reached a peak in 1980, when 18,516 fans saw Edison defeat Fountain Valley, 15-14, on a 2-point conversion with 19 seconds remaining. Five weeks later, 29,916 fans watched the same teams play on the same field for the Big Five Conference championship.
The large crowds diminished 5 years later, and the game returned to Orange Coast College’s LeBard Stadium. But for 20 years, the Edison-Fountain Valley rivalry has remained the premier prep football game in the county.
The series has been characterized by amazing comebacks, unsung heroes and last-second heroics. Tonight’s meeting, scheduled for 7:30 in LeBard Stadium, will be the lastest chapter of the 21-year rivalry.
“When I think of this game, I look back on the emotion, intensity and hitting . . . the emptiness of losing and the exhilaration of winning,” said Mike Henigan, Fountain Valley’s offensive line coach. “The series runs the gamut of emotions.”
Henigan spent a season as an assistant at Edison when its current coach, Dave White, was a junior quarterback on the team. He has coached in 11 Edison-Fountain Valley games and has had two sons participate, including current Fountain Valley quarterback David Henigan.
Mike Henigan thinks there is a distinct difference betweenthe approach the teams take in preparing for this game.
“I’ve noticed that the coaches and players at Edison approach the game with a little more emotion,” he said. “The coaches like to play up the confrontation of Edison’s little surfer boys versus big, bad Fountain Valley.
“They play off the underdog role year after year. Over here, we try to play a technical game.”
Edison holds a 14-5-1 advantage in the series, including 6 consecutive victories from 1978 to 1982 under coach Bill Workman, who’s now at Orange Coast College.
Perhaps the most memorable game during the winning streak was in 1980. Fountain Valley outplayed Edison most of the game and held a 14-0 lead going into the final quarter. But quarterback Ken Major rallied Edison for 2 touchdowns and then scored on a 2-point conversion run with 19 seconds remaining to give Edison a 15-14 victory.
Scott Strosnider, offensive and defensive lines coach at Edison, was the Chargers’ starting center in that game. Eight years later, Strosnider admitted that Major’s winning play was not the same play that Workman sent in from the bench.
“The noise inside the stadium that night was incredible,” Strosnider said. “You could hardly hear the signals on the field. The play we scored for 2 was the wrong play.
“Bill (Workman) had called for the play to go the opposite direction, but with all the noise, the play got screwed up coming from the bench to the huddle. Ken (Major) ended up running the same play that he used to score the touchdown, and, fortunately, it worked.”
Strosnider’s most vivid memory of the rivalry came a year earlier in Edison’s 35-7 victory over Fountain Valley at Anaheim Stadium in 1979.
Teammate Duaine Jackson scored on the opening kickoff, taking a reverse handoff from Dino Bell and speeding untouched down the right sideline in the opening 19 seconds of play.
“Both benches were on the same side of the field that year,” Strosnider said. “I can remember looking over and seeing all their players with their heads down while our guys were jumping up and down only a few feet away. The contrast in emotions was unbelievable.”
George Berg, an assistant in charge of linebackers at Fountain Valley for 17 seasons, remembers the role players who have stood out in the series. He pointed to the play of linebacker Sean Dooley in last year’s 14-13 Fountain Valley victory.
“Sean was a marginal player, but he never gave ground to the bigger guys on the other side of the line,” Berg said. “It’s the players like Dooley who I think about and get a sense of pride in this rivalry.”
Berg also recalled linebacker Kent Yomogida, who had one of the hardest hits Berg has seen in a high school game against Edison quarterback Nathan Ching in the early ‘70s.
“He hit Ching so hard that he dented Ching’s helmet,” Berg said. “The impact pushed the helmet in Ching’s cheek and he needed stitches to close a deep cut. It was a good, clean hit that I’ll never forget.”
Rick Meyers, Edison’s receivers and defensive backs coach, also played in 2 games against Fountain Valley in 1980 in Anaheim Stadium. He thinks the victories helped Edison emerge from the shadow of Edison’s 1979 team that featured Frank Seurer, Kerwin Bell and Mark Boyer and is considered one of the county’s greatest teams.
“We didn’t have a superstar that year like the previous season, but we all had something to prove,” Meyers said. “We wanted to prove we were better than the ’79 team (12-2), and the record (14-0) showed we were a better team.
“I see a lot of similarities in this year’s Edison team. They want to prove they were better than last year (2-8 record) and a win over Fountain Valley would be a big step.”
For 16 years, Dave Penhall has been the offensive coordinator at Fountain Valley. He has experienced the disappointment of losing 6 in a row to Edison and the excitement of winning 3 of the past 5 meetings.
The former star quarterback at Westminster played at California and claims this high school rivalry is as big as any football game with which he has been associated.
“This game is as intense as anything I did in college,” Penhall said. “I played in a couple of ‘Big Games’ against Stanford, and this is a little more serious than Cal-Stanford.
“This game provides something a little extra for everybody. It’s a game for the players, the fans and the coaches.”
Strosnider was unaware of the impact of the Edison-Fountain Valley game until he suited up for his first collegiate game at Boise State against rival Idaho.
“Everybody on the team was excited about playing a big rival in front of this great crowd,” Strosnider said. “While we were warming up, one of my teammates said something about the crowd that was about 20,000.
“I told the guy, ‘My last high school game, I played in front of 30,000 (29,916) in Anaheim Stadium. This is nice, but it’s no big deal.’ I don’t think the guy ever believed me.”