Friday, Oct. 17, 2008 | 7:42 a.m.
Morgan walked through the door carrying his school's most prized possession – the cleat, a size 16 shoe worn by former Los Angeles Rams lineman Merlin Olson, which has been cast in bronze and mounted on a 2-foot base.
The cleat is annually awarded to the victor of the Chaparral-Eldorado football game, a contest affectionately called the Cleat Game in a tradition that dates back to the 1970s. Pro Football Hall of Famer Olson donated the cleat to the rivalry and often presented it to the winning team 20-plus years ago.
Chaparral, via its 43-28 victory last year, has possession of the cleat heading into Friday night's contest at 7 p.m. at Chaparral (2-5, 1-3). Cowboys coach Fernando Carmona allowed a few of the team's seniors to take the cleat home with them this week to stress the significance and tradition of the rivalry.
Morgan, who will play in his fourth Cleat Game, jumped at the chance to keep the trophy by his side for the night.
The rivalry is in its 36th meeting, with Chaparral holding a 22-13 series lead. The trophy has a nameplate engraved with each outcome, which gave Morgan a first-hand look at game's history.
Keeping the trophy with the orange and black is not only important to his teammates but for the alumni who have played for the cleat in years past.
"Few schools in Nevada have a tradition like this," Morgan said. "Spending that much time with the trophy gave me an understanding on what I need to do on Friday night. This is our Super Bowl."
If only the players from Eldorado knew the cleat was so close. Morgan's house is less than a two miles from Eldorado.
"I kept a good eye on it," Morgan said.
Carmona, who graduated from Chaparral in 1982, preaches from the season's first practice about the importance of winning the storied game. He also has three assistants on staff who graduated from the school, and they all share his philosophy on the game's importance.
"The success of a season here is determined by whether or not you win the Cleat Game," Carmona said. "This is our Michigan-Ohio State."
The feeling is the same at Eldorado (4-3, 2-1).
"This is a huge game for the (Eldorado) community," Sundevils coach Leon Evans said. "There are kids on the team who have parents or other relatives who played in the game and are excited about getting the cleat back home."
In addition to the significance of playing for the cleat, both teams need a win in the race for supremacy in the Northeast Division. The top four teams make the playoffs, and Chaparral needs victories in its final three games to reach the postseason.
"We need to execute our game plan and limit the mistakes," Carmona said.
Led by the dual running threat of tailbacks Tone Gatewood and DeAndre Smith, the Sundevils have won games on the strength of their ground attack. Evans plans to continue the strategy against Chaparral.
More importantly, Evans said, his team must be ready to compete in a game that will have more significance than most Friday nights.
"It's almost like a playoff atmosphere," Evans said. "Anytime you play in a rivalry game like this, you have to pick up your intensity."
Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].