The football teams of Central Washington and Western Washington meet Saturday in Seattle at Qwest Field.
Here’s a change: There will be a college football game in Seattle on Saturday night, and the winner will be a Washington team.
It is the sixth annual “Battle in Seattle” at 6 p.m. at Qwest Field between No. 11 Central Washington and Western Washington, both NCAA Division II teams.
“If you want to see Washington kids play, you’ll see a lot more of them in the ‘Battle in Seattle’ than in the Apple Cup,” Western’s third-year coach, Robin Ross, said.
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Both coaches say many fans without ties to either school don’t appreciate the intensity of the rivalry.
Central coach Blaine Bennett said: “This rivalry is deep-rooted. … There really is a line drawn in the sand.”
The Battle has attracted at least 11,000 fans every year, with a high of 16,392 for the inaugural Seattle game in 2003. Ticket prices are $15, $25 and $35.
Central (5-1 overall, 4-0 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference) has won four of the five games played in Seattle and is favored over Western (3-2, 3-1).
Central is led by senior quarterback Mike Reilly, who has broken some of Jon Kitna’s school records and is challenging others. Kitna now plays for the Detroit Lions.
Reilly, a Washington State transfer and four-year starter, was the preseason Division II offensive player of the year selection by Lindy’s College Football Annual. He hasn’t disappointed and can break the NCAA record for all classifications Saturday by throwing a touchdown in his 41st consecutive game.
A new ground threat for Central this year is former Husky J.R. Hasty. He is one of 11 Central players with football experience above the Division II level.
Western’s 2008 recruit with Pac-10 credentials, ex-Oregon Duck Jordan Carey, suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in the season while playing safety.
Central’s only loss this season was 38-35 on a last-second field goal at favored Montana, which plays in the Big Sky Conference, part of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Western, led by senior quarterback Adam Perry, was tied 31-31 with Eastern Washington, another Big Sky school, in the fourth quarter before losing 52-31.
Neither head coach needed a map of his town when he took his current job.
Ross, 53, was defensive coordinator at Western in 1994 and 1995. He grew up in Southern California and played and later coached at Washington State.
His coaching stops include: Iowa State, Fresno State, Oregon, Oregon State and the Oakland Raiders for two seasons, including 2000 when they reached the AFC title game.
Ross returned to Bellingham in 2006 because he wanted to be a head coach “and because I really enjoy living here.”
Central’s Bennett, 43, was hired last winter to replace Beau Baldwin, who went to Eastern Washington when Paul Wulff departed for WSU.
Bennett lived about a decade in Ellensburg when his father, Blaine “Shorty” Bennett, was coaching at Ellensburg High School, a stint that included a state championship.
He played for his father at Walla Walla High School and later at Whitworth College.
The new Central coach was the coach at Division II Western Oregon for six seasons in the 1990s and has been on the staffs at Washington State, Purdue and Michigan State and also coached high-school football in Indiana.
These days, “Shorty” is the running-backs coach on Bennett’s staff, an arrangement the son calls “fantastic.”
He may use the same word again Saturday night if Central prevails.
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or firstname.lastname@example.org