The red and green runs deep: How Chico and Humboldt soccer are reviving a nearly century long rivalry


Max Grater

Chico State and Cal Poly Humboldt Men’s Soccer during the National Anthem ahead of the Battle of the North match

In hopes of one team coming away with a win and the other with bitter defeat, GoPros were strapped to the goal posts on both sides of the field while the documentary crew kept the cameras rolling on the sidelines to capture both the beauty and torment of the game. Though one never gives way to the other. 

Shoot to Kill NYC, a digital production agency, partnered with LGTV to create a short “docuseries” about college sporting rivalries. This fall, the subject was Chico State and Cal Poly Humboldt’s soccer teams and their rivalry that has spanned over 40 years. 

The rivalries origins begin with the now disbanded football teams of these two schools battling on the football field for a large ax that played as a trophy for the winner of the game. Dating back to 1948, the teams originally lacked pads and helmets. 

Sonoma State University and UC Davis (when they were in the schools’ conference) have always been recognized as the true rivalry among athletes and alumni. The locations being closer creates some added tension. 

Although, the four hour drive through the forest to Arcata — where for half the time all cell phone service is lost — might just make you hate the team you’re playing in spite of it. 

Former women’s soccer coach Bob Russ said it was a multitude of things from over the years that groomed a real rivalry. Whether it was prior to Title IX, when the women’s soccer team was denied access to play on Humboldt’s campus or camping out in the rain the weekend of games at Patrick’s Point with nothing but a tarp over their sleeping bags, there is a deep history between these two teams. 

There was a sacrifice those women had to go through that fueled a rivalry in the infancy of the program. 

“The rivalry was not a dirty one, it was just something that you always had to prepare for, coaching and playing, it was unlike any other game you played,” Russ said. 

That extra preparation was put to good use as the women Wildcats of the 1970s were forced to play at what was called Old MacDonald Farm. It was the only level field in town, with a tree stump just outside the penalty box. 

“Play like a stump,” became Russ’s motto. He told his team confidently that first game at Old MacDonald Farm exactly how they would use the stump to their advantage when attacking and defending that side. 

Letting me in on a secret he jokingly said, “It sounded brilliant, but I had no idea if that was going to work.” 

On-field rivalry aside, the women of both teams were facing the same discrimination. They played through an era in which women’s sports was less than, if anything at all. That’s when they banded together, while it may not have changed where they could play then, it empowered the women who play now. 

The following year the seniors at Chico and Humboldt communicated before their match to toilet paper the men’s field prior to their game against UC Davis. Rain set in that night and made it all the more difficult to clean it up. 

“I told the men’s coach it was probably Davis, I knew who did it, but I didn’t even want to ask,” Russ said. 

There were many more stories of the women’s teams coming together, such as participating in karaoke at a bar in Arcata the night before the game. But when the whistle blew it was 11 versus 11, and one versus one. 

You never wanted to lose the match with the player lined up across from you. 

Film crew getting footage ahead of the women’s Battle of the North match on September 17 at University Stadium. Photo by Max Grater

Teams that didn’t join forces however, were the Men’s Wildcats and Lumberjacks. Players turned alumni always found a way to tamper with the Lumberjacks and vice versa.

Eric Snedeker, who played for the ’Cats in 1970-1973 and was assistant coach from 1975-1989 still remembers the atmosphere of the games when those two teams played each other. He even recalls the names of some of the guys he said disrupted and roughed up the game. 

“We always took care of them in conference, they were a middle-of-the-road team but always had a scrappiness and fight to them,” Snedeker said. 

Chico was technical, the team who moved the ball around well and the ones to beat in the 80s. The Lumberjacks were fit, fast and “tough as hell.” 

The two opposing towns couldn’t be any different. One deals with heat waves and the other surfs them. One is landlocked by the valley, the other is secluded, beyond the trees and beside the coast. One bleeds red and the other takes pride in their green. 

The stands last weekend were as full as they have been in recent years. Over 500 fans helped fuel a rivalry, but Snedeker remembers a time when the two teams played in the then football stadium among 1000 fans — and sometimes as many as 3000. With stands behind the goals, there were 90 minutes of harassment directed at the Humboldt goalie. 

Lumberjack fans would have to endure a year of waiting to get even. The Wildcats had to travel through the thick of the forest to endure the Lumberjack faithful, being even closer to the field to get their turn at some heckling. 

As a fan some years later, Snedeker traveled to Humboldt to watch another classic match between the two oldest Northern California universities. 

His days of preparing himself and the team for a physical game were gone and he was free to be the noisy alumni on the sidelines. Or in true Chico fashion the quiet, discreet one who, along with other former Wildcats, hopped the fence and onto the pitch of the Lumberjacks, spelling out the letter “C” with flour. 

Snedeker also recalls the times when the tires on the Chico team bus had popped. While they couldn’t prove it was Humboldt, it was understood, Snedeker said. 

Both Russ and Snedeker were there at the height of the rivalry and physicality between the two teams. They didn’t like Humboldt and Humboldt didn’t like them. Those days they played Friday and Sunday, and you remember who was hacking and roughing the game up. Sunday called for evening up the score on both sides. 

If Sunday was another war, then the calendars would be marked for the following year. As if they weren’t already. 

Nowadays the look of the conference is different. Only in the last year have the Wildcats and Lumberjacks begun to play each other twice due to UC San Diego becoming a Division I program. They meet once at the end of preseason and then again for the last game of conference play. 

This year the Lumberjacks traveled to Chico, narrowly escaping the 115 degree heat the week before and played against the Wildcats under the lights in an overcast match. 

This game had layers within itself. Nevermind the cameras on the sidelines and strapped to the post behind the goal. There was redemption on the line for some and reputation for others, after the sting of last year’s defeat. The Wildcats handed the Jacks a loss, knocking them out of playoff contention and sneaking into a sixth-place seed.

Sophomore Liam Duerksen came into the season on the California Collegiate Athletic Association Top Ten Watch List after a 2021-22 campaign in which he racked up eight assists, placing second behind, you guessed it, Marco Silveira, a Lumberjack. 

More fuel to the already blazing fire was what these teams needed. 500 plus fans in attendance was just the gasoline on top.

“That game was the most fans I’ve played in front of at Chico, it felt good to see that and I hope we can continue drawing a crowd like that as the season goes on,” Duerksen said. “I don’t think it added much physicality to the game but it helped add to the trash talk.” 

However, Duerksen said he lets his game speak for itself and doesn’t get caught up in it. 

Chico will make their way to Arcata in November for the last game of the season. A much different stadium than Chico’s, Duerksen expects there to be less fans in attendance. As for the game, he knows the intensity won’t change from either side. 

The Chico State Women’s Soccer team drew an even bigger crowd in a 4:30 p.m. match against the Jacks. After a compelling 4-0 victory over them in last season’s final conference match on the same field, the Wildcats knew they were more than capable of closing their preseason strong. 

The free food sparked life into the fans despite the wind and cold weather. There was even a local girls soccer team who came out with pom-poms cheering on the women playing at a level some of them may aspire to be at in a few years time. 

In the ninth minute senior Susanna Garcia assisted Piper Matson for the lone goal of the game. The Jacks netted a goal in the second half only for it to be called offside. 

“It was everything I wanted it to be, it was super important to not only walk away with playing well as a team but also getting the result,” Garcia said. 

Cameras won’t be lining the field in the second matchup between these two teams. However, the players across both programs will have a different intensity level when they step on the field. Whether they know it or not. 

“I think the history we have with Humboldt makes it a more emotional game, the more emotions involved the more you are invested,” Garcia said. “The intensity of the fans probably won’t be the same for the second time however I think our team is capable of bringing a high intensity ourselves.” 

A rivalry that went long unrecognized as the years passed is now shaping up to become everything it once was. 

Tough as hell. 

Mason Tovani can be reached at [email protected]