State’s 3rd-oldest rivalry returns as Streator set to visit Ottawa this Friday

Pirates, Bulldogs will resume Route 23 Rivalry that began in 1894

When the Streator Bulldogs and Ottawa Pirates step onto Ottawa’s King Field on Friday night for the resumption of Illinois’ third-oldest high school football rivalry, it will have been 2,912 days since the last time they met.

As any football fan along the two old rivals’ patch of Route 23 can tell you, it has been far too long.

“I think there’s going to be a ton of excitement at King Field on Friday night,” Ottawa athletic director Mike Cooper said. “That’s especially true with Streator winning Week 1 (14-12 at home over East Peoria) and us winning Week 1 (42-14 at Sandwich). “I would think there would be a big crowd on Friday night.

“It’s going to feel like the old days.”

This first matchup since the rivals last met in Week 3 of the 2013 season – a 29-13 Pirates victory also played at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers – will be the 97th recorded meeting. It also will be a rare one in recent history, as both teams come in at or above .500.

The last time both teams came in at or above .500 was 2005, when 4-2 Ottawa met 3-3 Streator in Week 7. The Bulldogs won a 6-0 upset in a slugfest. Before that, it was in Week 7 of the 1996 season, and the script was flipped with the 3-3 Pirates handing the 5-1 Bulldogs a 36-16 defeat that was devastating to their playoff hopes.

Whatever the records, however, it’s always an intense Friday night when the Route 23 teams get together in a rivalry that dates to 1894. It was halted after the 2013 season when the longtime North Central Illinois Conference mainstays parted conference ways – Ottawa remaining in the fledgling and ill-fated Northern Illinois Big 12; Streator darting to join the Interstate 8.

Ironically, Ottawa in the ensuing years joined the I-8 just as Streator was leaving to become a charter member in the Illinois Central Eight, making this year’s resumption of the Route 23 Rivalry the first nonconference meeting between the Pirates and Bulldogs since they played each other twice a season in 1984 and 1985.

“Pretty much [Cooper] and I set it up at a JV golf invitational, if I remember right,” Streator AD Rory Bedeker said of resuming the Route 23 Rivalry shortly after taking over for previous athletic director Kevin Wargo. “We were riding in a cart together and realized we both had Week 2 open coming up.

“We knew eventually we’d be able to make it work again. It’s a big game for both communities that’s been going on a long time.”

The eight-year gap isn’t the longest in the rivalry’s history, however.

The Bulldogs and Pirates are not recorded as playing between their initial 1894 meeting – a 14-0 Streator victory, according to an article published six days later in the Streator Free Press and written by the publication’s society editor, of all things – and their 1911 meeting, a 17-0 Bulldogs victory. There’s always the possibility of another meeting being found, however, as until recent years the rivalry was believed to have started in 1895, not 1894.

Streator dominated the early days, winning the first four meetings before Ottawa’s first victory, 12-6 in 1912, and 12 of the first 15. The Bulldogs continued to lead the all-time series until the Pirates turned things on their head with the most lopsided run of dominance in the rivalry’s history – winning all but one of the annual showdowns between 1951 and 1972.

Apart from another double-digit run of 10 straight Ottawa wins from 1987 through 1996, the schools have traded wins at a mostly even pace, although Ottawa has triumphed in the past four before this last lapse.

According to current records, the Pirates lead the all-time series, 58-37-1.

Ottawa and Streator were scheduled to resume the rivalry in 2020 before efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the season back to spring 2021 and collapsed schedules for both teams to include only conference opponents.

Everyone had to wait one more year for the big night to return.

“It should be a big crowd,” Bedeker said, adding that Streator likely would have to add visitors seating when it hosts the Pirates next season. “It will be something nice after not having the stands filled last year because of COVID.

“And it’s nice to be able to do it this season right off the bat. It should be a lot of fun.”

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. Pedelty

J.T. is a graduate of Streator High School, Illinois Valley Community College and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale who is some 22 years into an award-winning sports journalism career.