Apple Bowl Football Rivals

CLASH for 50th Time

Coach Strusz, leading the team in prayer






“For the first play in the inaugural Apple Bowl game, we called a 6-2 blitz. As the Xavier QB attempted to hand off the ball, our linebackers hit the running back for a four-yard loss.”

That’s how retired varsity football coach Gene Strusz described that afternoon game on October 31, 1987. It was a day the Foxes would come away with the win, 23-6.

While 1987 was technically the first “Apple Bowl,” many don’t remember this rivalry began long before there was a golden trophy. The first game in the series dates back to 1960. Xavier was pretty much a brand new school, having opened its doors in 1959. FVL had been around since 1953 and had just moved to the Oneida Street campus in 1957. That game was contested at Goodland Field, the home of the Appleton Foxes baseball team. Xavier took that first game 20-0. It would be twelve years before the schools played again.

The rivalry was re-ignited in 1972. The Foxes evened the series at 1-1 with a 26-7 win on our home field. Since then, it has been an annual event with both schools playing in the same conference until the WIAA realignment in 2015. The 2015-2020 games have been non-conference tilts, but it looks as though the Foxes and Hawks will be in the same conference for football beginning in 2021. This October 2, second-year head coach Seth Jaeger led the 0-1 Foxes as they traveled to Rocky Bleier Field to play the 1-0 Hawks. Going into the 50th match-up, Coach Jaeger knew the Foxes had their work cut out for them because Xavier had many top players returning.

Still, he and his team were looking forward to the challenge. “It’s a great rivalry—50 years right now,” he said. “What’s cool about it is the kids know each other; a lot of them played youth football together. With the history of it, this game is such a special and fun game for all involved.”

Senior co-captain Parker Knoll echoed those sentiments.

“Players from both sides know people on each team, making the rivalry that much more personal. The energy and hype at the Apple Bowl is unlike any other game during the season.”

Seth Voeller, another Foxes co-captain, explained,

“For the Apple Bowl, nothing else matters . . . you just have to win the Apple Bowl. There is so much history and emotion.”

Billed as the “longest high school football rivalry in Appleton,” this year’s game was probably one of the strangest ever played in the history of the rivalry. The roaring Friday night crowds were non-existent. COVID restrictions meant only two spectators per athlete were allowed for each school.

The stands were populated with socially distanced supporters—some wearing facemasks. Fans had to settle for a livestreamed version of the game with tiny players running plays on the field far below the video camera or for the radio play-by-play.

FVL had won the last four Apple Bowls, but that was not to be this night. The Hawks overpowered the Foxes 54-18 to shrink FVL’s overall lead in the series to 26-24. The Apple Bowl trophy will spend the next year in the Xavier trophy case, awaiting next year’s game.

The prestigious trophy is topped with a golden apple. The scores of every game are engraved on plates on its sides. It is called the Paustian-Lloyd Award in honor of John Paustian, sports editor of the Post-Crescent, and Bob Lloyd, a long-time WHBY sports announcer. Both were huge supporters of prep sports. The idea for the trophy was first shared by Coach Strusz and Xavier Athletic Director Jim Myers. Xavier coach Don Dineen agreed and the rest is history.

While the 2020 game didn’t bring home a Foxes’ victory, Parker Knoll summed up how special this game was for the players. “We weren’t sure if we were going to play this year at all. Just getting to play made it very special. We played our hearts out and made the most of the opportunity we were given. I will definitely be cheering for the Foxes to bring the trophy back to FVL at next year’s Apple Bowl!”

—Dave Payne Communications Director

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