Before Scott Pingel was given the keys to the CBC football program, and before he led the Cadets to the 2006 state championship game, and before he was guiding the unbeaten No. 1 large-school in the state of Missouri into the Class 6 semifinals, Pingel was asked about St. Louis University High. Did he understand the rivalry? Did he know how just how much it meant to pin a loss on the Junior Billikens? Did he get just how deep the competition between these two private, Catholic boys schools went? “It was one of my job interview questions,” Pingel recalls. “I’ve definitely been indoctrinated.”
Pingel will get a full-on taste of it on Friday, Nov. 18, when SLUH (9-3) hosts CBC (12-0) in a Class 6 semifinal. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. The winner of this game will play next weekend in the state title game at the Edward Jones Dome.
There was a time when CBC and SLUH slugging it on the gridiron was a must-see event. If you weren’t there, well, you just were just missing out. Back when CBC’s campus was just a few miles up Interstate 64, nestled behind that giant Amoco sign on Clayton Road, the Cadets and Junior Billikens were the fiercest of rivals.
In 1967, then No. 1 SLUH played No. 2 CBC at old Busch Stadium. The game drew 34,000 spectators. It’s believed to be the most well attended high school football game ever in St. Louis.
Since CBC moved its campus beyond Interstate 270 in 2003, the rivalry has lost some sizzle. The Cadets are now neighbors with De Smet, and their annual game has become the must-see event. This year, it was the marquee matchup of the inaugural Great American Football Classic and was played at the Edward Jones Dome. De Smet has also become SLUH’s top rival. Among the many reasons is both schools are Jesuit. De Smet gets the blood pumping through younger alums at both schools. It’s the, shall we say, more mature alumni who still hold those vivid memories of SLUH/CBC’s heyday. And they won’t have it any other way. “It’s more of the older guys who are in your ear,” Pingel says.
When these two programs come together on Friday, it will be epic. CBC has had its way with most of its schedule. Only twice this season have the Cadets failed to beat their opponent by more than a touchdown. They hammered SLUH 34-7 in the middle of September. SLUH hasn’t lost a game since. It’s won eight straight and done so over some of the best competition around. Among the Junior Billikens wins are the likes of Lindbergh, Eureka and De Smet (twice). On Friday, you would expect, would be one for the storybooks. “They’ll etch this game in their memories for the rest of their lives,” SLUH athletics director Dick Wehner says.
The atmosphere will be unprecedented. If you were one of the many who took in last week’s SLUH/De Smet quarterfinal then you know the buzz that percolated through the crowd all night. It will only be amplified when these two historic rivals meet with a shot at the state championship on the line.
Both Pingel and SLUH coach Gary Kornfeld tried to downplay the effect of the rivalry. They both say that this deep in the season and it doesn’t matter who’s across the field from you. All you want to do is survive and advance. “The rivalry almost becomes secondary,” Kornfeld says.
That’s true. The coaches have a point. But rivalries burn hottest when the stakes are at their highest. On Friday, the stakes have never been higher.