By Brian Rathbone • The Bulletin

Matt Craven suited up for the Lava Bears against the Cougars in 1992. More than a quarter-century later, he will try to guide Bend High to a victory over rival Mountain View in the annual playing of the Civil War.

There is no shortage of intrigue in the regular-season finale between the schools separated by less than 31⁄2 miles.

The winning team takes claim as Bend’s top football team and bragging rights for a year. A win for the Lava Bears, the victors in four of their last five games, should secure a spot in the Class 6A state playoffs. The Cougars, meanwhile, desperately need a victory for a shot at the postseason after a setback last Friday against Sprague.

“It’s an important game for both teams, as the Civil War always is,” said Craven, whose college roommate, Casey Powell, played quarterback for Mountain View. “It’s especially important for us because we feel like with how the league is shaking out, if we win, we are in the playoffs. Our kids know that.”

“Our kids are ready for it,” echoed 12th-year Mountain View coach Brian Crum. “It’s a big game, it’s something that’s beyond themselves, it’s a legacy for those kids and what they’ve done and for the people that came before them and come after them. I think that’s huge.”

For the record, Mountain View leads the all-time series 23 wins to 17. The Cougars have controlled the series in recent years, winning the last three Civil Wars and eight of the last nine. Yet, a key subplot to the 41st Civil War might be if either team can stop the other’s lead running back. Many have tried, few have succeeded. The two running backs — Bend’s Nate Denney and Mountain View’s Keenan Harpole — have combined for 3,201 yards and 39 touchdowns this season.

Aside from a quick conversation at a football camp, the two backs do not know each other particularly well. But both are familiar with each other’s work on the field.

“He’s a pretty good running back,” Harpole said. “I’ve seen some film on him and he’s ahead of me (statistically) in the league,”

Commenting after his Tuesday practice, Denney said of Harpole: “I’m excited to play him.”

Entering Friday’s matchup, Harpole agrees that his counterpart at Bend High might have a slight edge. He knows that he is chasing Denney in yards and that the Cougars are chasing the Lava Bears in the standings. But a win and a strong showing on Friday could change that.

According to statewide stats compiled by The Oregonian, Denney has a chance to win the 6A rushing title and Harpole can finish near or at the top for 6A touchdowns. Both are a threat to score each time they touch the ball.

“I’m ready to go, I know he’s ready to go,” Harpole said in Mountain View’s final tuneup practice prior to Friday night.

Denney, Bend’s do-it-all ball carrier, has not rushed for fewer than 130 yards in a game this season. Four times he has rushed for more than 200 and twice eclipsed 300 yards. Of his 19 touchdowns, 15 have come in the past five games, during which the Lava Bears are 4-1. Denney needs 164 yards to reach 2,000 yards for the season and needs one more touchdown to reach 20.

“I’ve gotten a lot of touches thanks to the coaches,” Denney said. “Our offensive line has been blocking amazingly. Half of my runs I don’t get touched until I’m at 6 yards. I’d really like to credit my team for that. I’d say I’m pretty talented, but my team is putting me where I’m at right now.”

Harpole has followed in the footsteps of Jonas Larson, who had consecutive 2,000-yard seasons for the Cougars in 2017 and 2018. Harpole has rushed for 185 yards or more five times this season. He has scored six touchdowns in a game once and five other times has finished with multiple scores, totaling 1,365 yards and 20 touchdowns.

“I’m just confident,” Harpole said. “I’m confident in my teammates, I try to play my hardest every game. And football is my sport, it always has been.”

Friday night has all the makings of an emotional ending: A rivalry game, potentially the final game of the season for one team, and of course, bragging rights are at stake. But Harpole posed an idea on how he wants the game featuring two of the state’s top backs to end.

“I think it would be really cool to talk to (Denney) after the game and get a picture with him,” Harpole said. “That would be cool.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0307,

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. The original version contained quoted material that inaccurately reflected the subject’s intended meaning. The Bulletin regrets the error.