MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (Football):
The Milk Can Game: Iowa–Grant at Fennimore
By Jason Nihles, The Platteville Journal/Fennimore Times
A pandemic caused a one-year hiatus in Fennimore’s Milk Can rivalry football game with Iowa–Grant, snapping a string of 50 straight years playing for the rivalry trophy.
A conference change for Iowa–Grant threatened to end it, but through it all the tradition will go on.
Fennimore will host Iowa–Grant in the 51st annual Milk Can game Friday at 7 p.m. to open the 2021 season, with what is now a non-conference game. The 2022 game has already been scheduled as well; Iowa–Grant will host Fennimoe Aug. 19 to open next season.
“I think it is important for neighboring districts to continue rivalries,” said Fennimore head coach Boone Tollefson, who led the Golden Eagles to a 2–4 record during the WIAA’s alternate spring season in March and April. “We have been lucky to have that with Iowa–Grant and Lancaster in football. It is fun to hear the stories and know the relationships that exist on both sides, and it adds another flavor to a game.
“Fennimore Athletic Director Jim Prochaska and I have discussed this rivalry a few times, and its importance to our communities,” said Iowa–Grant athletic director Casey Clausius. “In this day and age a lot has changed, but for 50 years, this tradition every fall has not, and we will work hard to keep it going. We will always have each other on the schedule.”
After nearly 50 years of being conference opponents, Iowa–Grant was moved from the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League as part of the football-only realignment plan.
Fennimore remained in the SWAL for football, while Iowa–Grant was moved to the Six Rivers Football Conference for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, and will again move to the Ridge and Valley–Football next fall.
Football-only conference alignments are subject to change every two years. Iowa–Grant and Fennimore will remain SWAL rivals in all other sports.
Iowa–Grant played last fall’s abbreviated season as part of a combined 10-team Ridge & Valley/Six Rivers Conference. Fennimore played in the WIAA’s alternate spring season.
The COVID-19 pandemic snapped a 50-year streak of Iowa–Grant and Fennimore playing for the Milk Can.
“Renewing a rivalry after missing a year makes it exciting for both sides, especially getting to play for The Can,” added Tollefson. “ It gives players another incentive. Many of their relatives and friends have played on one or both sides of this rivalry, and they get to write the next chapter.”
“In the past few years a few things have changed, and we are no longer in a conference together,” said Clausius. “But we still have each other highlighted on our schedules during the first few weeks of every season as a non-conference game.”
“When it was decided that IG would be leaving the SWAL for the 2020 season, one thing that I wanted to make sure did not change was the Milk Can game between us and Fennimore,” said Iowa–Grant head football coach Zach Raimer. “This game is always a special one that players, coaches, and the community always look forward to at the beginning of the season.
“A tradition like this, which has been going on for 50 years, is special for both schools and communities. Games like these are hard to find, and they create a special experience for our players. Hopefully, we will be able to continue this rivalry game for future seasons.”
The battle for the “can” began in 1970. The Golden Eagles claimed it first with a 28–0 win, but the can belonged to the Panthers until 1985, as Iowa–Grant won 14 straight games from 1971–84 and 20 of the first 22 games playing for the Milk Can.
The seeds of the rivalry game were planted all the way back in 1955 when two young men returned from the military and enrolled at UW–Platteville.
Larry Thurston and Jim Piquette fought in the Korean War, Thurston as a member of the U.S. Army and Piquette as a U.S. Marine. While they were attending UWP for the education, they were also members of the Pioneers’ football team.
The two men met at the first day of practice for the Pioneers in August and from that day forward they were best friends. After graduation they went their separate ways and both landed jobs as teachers and coaches.
In the late 1960s Thurston was named head football coach at Fennimore, around the same time Piquette took over as the head football coach at Iowa–Grant. The friends and former college teammates, now coaching rivals, met up at numerous coaching clinics where swapped ideas that could help improve their own programs.
It was at one of the clinics that Piquette and Thurston decided that since their teams were neighboring conference rivals that were going to play one another each year, they might as well play for something.
That something was determined to be The Milk Can.
“How fitting it is, naming it the game the Milk Can Game, a reflection of the hard-working farming communities we have in our two districts,” said Classius.
Because a silver milk can is not a thing of beauty, the coaches decided a little paint would help. One side is painted red and black for Iowa–Grant and the other maroon and gold for Fennimore. After each game, the year and final score is painted on the can.
Iowa–Grant holds a 33–17 lead in the all-time series, but Fennimore has won the last four meetings between the two schools, including a 36–8 victory at FHS in the 50th annual game in 2019.
Iowa–Grant and Fennimore, along with hundreds of other high schools throughout the state, began fall practice last Tuesday, Aug. 10.
Fennimore opened the alternate spring season with a 30–22 upset victory over defending WIAA Division 7 state champion Black Hawk/Warren, but injuries derailed the rest of the Eagles’ spring season.
Their only other win was 32–12 Week 3 victory over Southwestern (1–5) in the condensed six-week spring season.
Black Hawk never lost again and went on to share the six-team COVID-Spring Small Schools conference title with Belleville (6–1, 4–1).
Fennimore lost 17 seniors from last year’s team, including five all-conference selections in Chase Hestetune (2nd-team OL), Jacob Henkel (2nd-team DE), Teagan Napp (honorable mention RB), Warren Adam (honorable mention WR) and Druw Fifrick (honorable mention WR).
Tollefson will rebuild around seniors OL/DL Cameron Winkers (1st-team OL), RB/LB Kaden Hahn (1st-team LB), WR/DB Austin Horn (honorable mention) and QB Mark Kenney (honorable mention QB, 966 yards, 7 TDs, 11 INT).
“I’ve been really pleased with how our players have responded after a week of practice,” said Tollefson. “The level of competition in practice is up from the spring, and our goal is to increase depth as the season progresses and player gain more experience.”
Raimer’s Panthers are coming off a 2–4 season that was disrupted by a number of cancellations and last second games. IG’s Week 2 game against Hillsboro and week 7 game against Fall River/Rio were both cancelled. The Panthers also lost regularly scheduled games against Onalaska Luther and Pec/Argyle but were able to find last-minute replacements in Platteville and Potosi/Cassville.
Iowa–Grant closed out last year with back-to-back wins over Fall Creek and Boscobel.
“We have seen some great progress in the first week of practice. Just like every year, the first week of practice is knocking off the rust and getting our bodies and minds back into the football mindset. Our goals for the rest of the season is to improve each and every day. Be 10 percent better than you were yesterday and grow as a team.
“I am excited that we are continuing the tradition with Fennimore even after missing it last year due to COVID,” added Raimer. “Opening the season with a rivalry game like this helps create some excitement for the start of the football season, excitement that we hope to carry with us throughout the 2021 season.
MILK CAN GAME ALL-TIME RESULTS
Iowa–Grant leads series 33–17
YEAR WINNER SCORE
1970 - Fennimore, 28–0
1971 - Iowa–Grant, 7–0
1972 - Iowa–Grant, 20–14
1973 - Iowa–Grant, 26–0
1974 - Iowa–Grant, 12–0
1975 - Iowa–Grant, 25–0
1976 - Iowa–Grant, 13–0
1977 - Iowa–Grant, 22–0
1978 - Iowa–Grant, 8–0
1979 - Iowa–Grant, 35–6
1980 - Iowa–Grant, 13–0
1981 - Iowa–Grant, 12–0
1982 - Iowa–Grant, 13–12
1983 - Iowa–Grant, 3–0
1984 - Iowa–Grant, 13–0
1985 - Fennimore, 7–6
1986 - Iowa–Grant, 27–6
1987 - Iowa–Grant, 28–0
1988 - Iowa–Grant, 42–6
1989 - Iowa–Grant, 48–6
1990 - Iowa–Grant, 20–18
1991 - Iowa–Grant, 24–14
1992 - Fennimore, 28–9
1993 - Iowa–Grant, 35–0
1994 - Fennimore, 33–0
1995 - Iowa–Grant, 32–6
1996 - Iowa–Grant, 37–7
1997 - Iowa–Grant, 17–7
1998 - Fennimore, 22–13
1999 - Fennimore, 22–12
2000 - Fennimore, 13–12
2001 -Fennimore, 41–36
2002 - Fennimore, 28–14
2003 - Fennimore, 21–20
2004 - Iowa–Grant, 27–17
2005 - Fennimore, 18–0
2006 - Iowa–Grant, 23–21
2007 - Fennimore, 33–9
2008 - Fennimore, 51–9
2009 - Iowa–Grant, 24–0
2010 - Iowa–Grant, 25–13
2011 - Iowa–Grant, 20–0
2012 - Iowa–Grant, 42–21
2013 - Iowa–Grant, 27–7
2014 - Iowa–Grant, 31–21
2015 - Iowa–Grant, 22–12
2016 - Fennimore, 13–6
2017 - Fennimore, 28–8
2018 - Fennimore, 35–0
2019 - Fennimore, 36–8
2020 - NO GAME
2021 - Friday night
2022 - Aug. 19, 2022