It used to be really something, this Gold Pan game between the El Dorado Cougars and Ponderosa Bruins. Packed stands and pranks between student bodies played out over the 10-mile stretch of Highway 50 between the Placerville and Shingle Springs campuses used to help define the bruising games in what used to be a deep rivalry.
Friday marked the 50th Gold Pan game, with the Bruins taking the trophy — a large gold pan with the winners and scores of the past 49 matchups — back down the hill after a 55-19 win in Placerville. The Bruins are now 33-16-1 in the series.
“Any time there’s something on the line, whether it’s a gold pan or a pick axe or whatever it is, the kids get excited about that,” Johnson said. “Rivalry games like those and a local game, you just never know. They’re going to be fired up and we expect to see their best shot.”
But that wasn’t to be. The Cougars committed six first-half turnovers. A whole lot of Jake Chaney and two interception returns for scores landed like nuggets in the pan and the Bruins scored four straight touchdowns. Chaney had rushing TDs of 1, 10, 3 and 52 yards and Elijah Henderson and Ty Uber had interceptions returns of 37 and 50 yards, respectively. In all, the Bruins defense forced seven turnovers. Uber also scored on passes of 33 and 60 yards from Henderson.
Receiver Tyson Hamburg caught TD passes of 6, 9 and 78 yards from quarterback Danny Bell.
The series started in 1963 with a 34-0 El Dorado victory and the Cougars finished the decade 4-3. The 1980s were the last decade the Cougars have been competitive on the football field, going 7-2-1. The contests have been one-sided since. From 1990 through 2010, Ponderosa went 17-2. There were no games during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and from 2008-2011 the Bruins outscored the Cougars 172-62, which caused the series to be halted because of a competitive disadvantage.
“It was 11 losses in a row and they pulled the plug,” Cougars athletic director and former head coach Joe Volek said of game gap. “But this game is really important for the community. The rivalry still exists for the parents of a lot of our kids and our parents get the players up for the game. Our players grew up playing sports with and against kids from Union Mine High, our rivals now. But we held a rally (Friday) to get ready for Ponderosa. The Gold Pan game is back on.”
Shingle Springs, where Ponderosa is located, is growing as new construction continues on the Western Slope. Placerville’s population has held steady. Ponderosa, in Division II, has 1,800 students while El Dorado (D-IV) has 1,100.
When the series resumed in 2016, it was the Cougars under the tutelage of Volek who beat the Bruins 30-28 and took the Gold Pan back for the first time since 1998, and only the second time since 1990. The Bruins got the Gold Pan back last season with a 28-3 win.
In the first two weeks of the season, El Dorado had been outscored 87-7 with losses to Argonaut and Bear River. Ponderosa started 2-0 with victories over River City (64-6) and Vista Del Lago (49-18).
“Any local game like this is a little bit bigger deal for both communities and people at both schools,” said third-year Ponderosa coach Davy Johnson. “For our kids, we try to make every game the same. Every game is a big deal. But this one… it’s a great game for our communities and they’ve been playing it for 50-some-odd years now.”
“We’ve talked about it this week,” Johnson said. “A lot of our guys have had dads and uncles play in the game and moms and aunts who were cheerleaders on the sidelines. It kind of brings everybody together.”
Ponderosa is enjoying a resurgence. Johnson, in his third season, has the Bruins halfway to their win total the last two years after starting 2-8 in 2016 and going 4-6 last season.
“These guys bought in,” Johnson said. “A lot of these guys were sophomores when I came in and they’re starting to see all the hard work pay off. It starts with having good kids, one, and then hiring good coaches and then working as hard as you can.”