Ask Mike Bowman what is the best local high school football rivalry and he’ll reply without hesitation: ‘Taconic Hills-Hudson.’
Bowman could be considered an authority on the subject as he was directly involved in 12 games between the two schools as head coach of the Titans.
“This was the epitome of a rivalry,” Bowman said. “I’m sure it was Hudson’s and it certainly was our Army-Navy game. Even though Chatham was there, Hudson and Taconic Hills were neighboring communities that were right next to each other, especially when the high school was at the old Ockawamick building. We were right there, four miles down the road and you’re in Hudson. It was a huge rivalry and I found that out very quickly when I came to Taconic Hills. They were always the powerhouse, nobody could really beat them, everybody always wanted to try and beat them.”
Bob LaCasse, who never lost a game to Taconic Hills as the Bluehawks’ varsity coach, always enjoyed the rivalry.
“The Hudson-Taconic Hills rivalry was always fun, whether I was playing in a game or coaching one, we all looked forward to it on the schedule,” LaCasse said. “As a player, those that played Pop Warner from Hudson and TH grew up playing on the Whalers teams together because we were a county team at that time consisting of players from not only Hudson and TH, but Chatham, Ichabod and Germantown as well. Once Pop Warner was over, we all looked forward to hitting our old teammates, and many of us remain friends ’til this day. During the years that I attended Hudson, we only played each other on JV and we had a few scrimmages, but it was fun none-the-less.”
Bowman explained what the result of the games meant to the schools.
“It was for bragging rights,” Bowman said. “Hudson — the big, city school taking on the farm boys. And that alone made it an instant classic. A lot of the kids knew each other and played Pop Warner together. It wasn’t just the kids, either. A lot of the families knew each other and that just added fuel to the fire.”
Bowman got his first taste of the rivalry when he came to Taconic Hills as the head coach of the junior varsity team in 1986. The TH and Hudson JV teams were both undefeated when they met in Hudson and the Bluehawks came away with the victory.
Bowman moved up to the varsity as head coach in 1987 and had his first head-to-head meeting with Hudson coach Mike Leamy. Hudson prevailed in that game, but it was clear the Titans’ program was on the rise.
In 1988, the two teams met in perhaps the most memorable game of the series. Both teams rolled through their conference schedules unbeaten, setting up a late October clash in Hudson for the division title.
“I remember being on the sideline in ’86 when I was JV coach saying we’re going to be back here one day and in ’88 I was standing on that same sideline and, of course, I said that to the kids on the bus ride over to the field to get them psyched up,” Bowman said. “We were both undefeated that year and it was just an unbelievable clash, at least for our community, and then Hudson got in on it, too. It was just an unbelievable week leading up to the game. You’d have to be locked in a closet with chains and something in your ears if you had no idea this game was going to happen.”
The game was witnessed by an estimated 3,000 fans at the John A. Barrett Athletic Field in Hudson and Taconic Hills not only defeated Hudson for the first time, but wrapped up the Capital Conference Southern Division title.
R.J. Scutt, John Canetto and Gregg Decker all had touchdown runs to key the 18-6 victory. The Titans went on to beat Watervliet to win the league championship, then claimed the Section II Class title by beating Mechanicville and capped off a perfect 11-0 season with a victory over Section IV champ Walton.
Taconic Hills was named state Class C champions and Bowman was honored as the state’s Class C Coach of the Year.
The Titans looked to make it two straight wins over the Bluehawks in 1989 and took an 8-0 lead, but Hudson scored late, then tacked on the two-point conversion and the game ended in an 8-8 tie.
With a reshuffling of divisions in the Capital Conference, the two teams didn’t meet again until 1995, the year after Hudson went to the state Class C championship game in Syracuse. During that time, Bowman hired Leamy, who last coached Hudson in 1989, to run his defense.
“The adversary, the bad guy, the coach from Hudson coming to their biggest county rival, Taconic Hills,” Bowman said. “Leamy had so much success over the years and I had a lot of respect for him. We always got along, so in ’94 I got him to coach our defense. That was pretty cool.”
Just like the game in 1989, the ’95 contest ended in a tie, 20-20, setting the stage for a wild finish in the following year’s game.
The ’96 meeting also ended in a 20-20 tie at the end of regulation, A rule had been put in place at the end of the 1995 season stating that all tie games would go to overtime and play would continue until a winner was determined.
The new rule was lost on the officials at the ’96 game and once regulation ended with the score tied 20-20, they left the field, much to the surprise of Bowman.
“I tried to tell the official that there was a new rule about breaking ties this year,” Bowman said. “I told him we had to stay and break the tie. They didn’t know what I was talking about and left. So I filed a grievance and we had to come back and resume play three days later on Tuesday. Then to my chagrin, on the first play, they faked a pitch to (Ernest) Collins to the right, he comes back to the left and they pitch it to him and he ran it in for the score to break the tie.”
The teams didn’t meet again until 1999, with Hudson posting a 39-12 victory. Four years passed before the renewal of the rivalry and Taconic Hills stopped Hudson’s winning streak in the series by taking the 2003 (20-14) and 2004 (7-0) games.
At that point, the rivalry was given a new nickname.
“Donny Conte approached us wanting to add to the rivalry when he was the owner of Bubba Bean’s BBQ,” LaCasse explained. “He suggested a winner-take-all assortment of chicken wings and ribs, so we dubbed it the ‘Bubba Bean Bowl’. As coaches, we used this as an extra motivator in our preparation for our long-standing rivalry even though it had been quite a few years since we had played a scheduled varsity game.”
LaCasse got his first taste of the rivalry as Hudson varsity coach in 2005 and guided the Bluehawks to a 20-18 victory. Hudson took control of the contest early, but TH fought back to within two points in the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie with a two-point conversion.
“Bryan Van Tassel, my fullback scores on a blast to make it 20-18 with about a couple minutes left and of course we go for two,” Bowman explained. “He runs the ball in, gets across the goal line and then he fumbles in the end zone. The one official on the sideline signals he got in. He crossed the plane. It doesn’t matter he fumbled in the end zone because he had already got in. We’re lining up to kick the ball off and the officals come over and say it didn’t count and that they’re taking the points off the board. I about had an attack. It was just painful. Absolutely the worst call I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Hudson continued to dominate the series, winning the next three years.
Section II decided to restrure the football divisions in 2009 and the rivalry again was put on the shelf.
“As a coach, we were only able to play a handful of times before Section II decided to restructure the conferences based on enrollment and classification. After that, we would play TH if we were a non-qualifier for the playoffs or if we got eliminated,” LaCasse said.
The most recent meeting was a season-ending crossover game in 2014, which Hudson rallied to win, 27-20.
“Because of the divisional realignment for football, we no longer play them,” Bowman explained. “The alignment is kind of crazy because we play them in baseball, we play them in basketball, but we don’t play them in football. It’s still a rivalry with those two sports, but not like it is for football. There’s no cheering for the entire game, there’s no homecoming game. There’s no other sport for a rivalry like football. Chatham is our only in-county rival that we play now and it’s still a big game, but not anything like Taconic Hills-Hudson was. You’ll never get that flavor back.”