In a world of constant school consolidation, it’s hard to find two institutions that have been around long enough to have a rivalry like the one between Parkersburg High School and Marietta High School. The two teams, which met on the football field for the first time way back at the dawn of the twentieth century in 1901, are preparing to meet for the 113th time on Friday. In a competition that has been decidedly dominated by the West Virginia half of the equation, Marietta is attempting to win a third consecutive game for only the first time since 1915. You read that right—according to the official website of PHS’s football program, Parkersburg High School Big Reds Football, it’s been over a century since the Tigers have defeated the Big Reds more than twice in a row.
After a thirteen year hiatus starting in 1996 due to schedule issues for both schools, the rivalry was renewed again in 2009. Parkersburg won the first five games in that stretch, but Marietta has managed to defeat their long-time adversaries the past two years, by scores of 27-20 and 49-13. According to AJ Nolan, a senior on the PHS squad, this has served to motivate the Big Reds. “It’s definitely fueling the team,” he said. “We’re not going to take them lightly like we have in the past. We’re handling practices like we would for [Parkersburg] South.”
You math buffs may be calling foul at this moment. How, you may ask, can they be playing for the 113th time since 1901 when they didn’t play for thirteen consecutive years? The answer is quite interesting, actually. It turns out that the two teams played twice a year almost every season until 1928. Presumably, this is because of the limited number of schools within driving distance and the even smaller pool of institutions that fielded football teams. During that time period, there were several games of interest. For instance, from 1901 to 1904, there were five shutouts, with PHS winning three and MHS two. The two schools must have decided they really liked defense, as they played to two 0-0 ties in 1905.
Other interesting events took place over the years, such as in 1910, when Parkersburg officially won 1-0 nothing by forfeit when Marietta’s team walked off the field, and 1918, when the teams met only once because Parkersburg’s season was cut short by a Spanish Flu quarantine. Most years the games were relatively close fought affairs, with the schools going back and forth for the next several decades. Oddly, there have been only two complete blowout games, each won by Parkersburg High. And both lopsided games immediately preceded the two schools not playing for a short period. After the Big Reds annihilated the Tigers 78-0 in 1943, they didn’t meet again until 1947. In a similar turn of events a decade later, PHS blasted MHS 69-7 in 1958, after which the two schools didn’t appear on each other’s schedule again until 1964.
Regardless of this year’s outcome, it will be a hard fought contest because the two schools are fully aware of how historic and heated this rivalry has been over the years. As AJ Nolan put it, “For Marietta, this is their South game.” For folks who aren’t familiar with what AJ means, just as PHS feels about its crosstown rival Parkersburg South, Marietta believes beating PHS makes their season a success even if they have a losing record. And the reverse is true. If they go 9-1 with the one loss being to PHS, they would consider that a disappointment. And each team is going to do everything in its power to see that its historic foe goes home dejected.