Prized penny

The U.S. penny doesn’t buy as much as it used to. In fact, the cost of minting a penny in 2013 was nearly twice its face value (1.8 cents per coin).

Tonight in Velva, a uniquely large penny will be at stake, one with a value too complex for monetary summation.

It’s worth? Yearlong bragging rights.

The Bishop Ryan Lions and the Velva Aggies battle at 7 this evening in what’s been dubbed the second annual Copper Bowl.

“Our schools have had a lot of good battles, in football, baseball, whatever sport,” said Larry Sandy, Velva’s 25-year coach and nine-time state champion. “It means a lot for the kids. They know each other, so there’s a natural tension there, I suppose. We just wanna get out there (tonight) and compete.”

Though the Penny Trophy has only existed for a year, bragging rights in the rivarly have belonged to Ryan the past three seasons.

The Lions captured the traveling hardware in 2013 after a weather-shortened, 20-0 victory at Herb Parker Stadium. The win was the first of 10 straight for Ryan en route to a state semifinal appearance.

First-year Ryan coach Zach Rudolph is well aware of the history associated with the Velva-Ryan rivalry. He also knows how much it means to his players.

But at the end of the day, Rudolph will approach tonight’s contest like any other game.

“There might be a little added significance for the players, but to me it’s just another game,” he said. “We just gotta go out and execute, minimize mistakes as much as possible and try to win a ballgame.”

A Ryan win tonight would mark the first of Rudolph’s career, something which he’s anxious to obtain. But the pressure to do so isn’t overwhelming, he said.

“Obviously, every team wants to start 1-0,” Rudolph said. “Do I feel the pressure? No, not really, and I don’t think our guys do either. Velva’s gonna be well-coached – they always are – and they’ll play hard. We’ve just gotta go out and control what we can control.”

A win for the Lions would also secure their first four-game winning streak over Velva, a streak which the Aggies are anxious to disrupt.

Velva senior Marcus Mack a two-way lineman and returning all-region selection has seen Ryan beat the Aggies each of the last three seasons.

Playing in his final season for Velva, he doesn’t want there to be a fourth.

“It’s one of those things. For Velva football, you don’t want to go all four years and not beat Bishop Ryan,” Mack said. “The Penny Trophy is just added motivation to go out and finally get these guys. We’ve been working our whole high school career myself and our other seniors and we just wanna go out and take care of business (tonight).”

Ryan seniors are equally motivated.

“If we win we’ll be the first class to win all four years. We want that,” senior lineman Tanner Scheig said. “It’s a longtime rivalry, and we feel pretty confident. We’ve got a good team here, and we’re ready to go.”

The Aggies enjoyed an improved regular-season effort last year (6-4). Though their 2013 run came to an end during the state quarterfinals, they’ve still captured eight of the past 14 Class A state titles.

Sandy plans to take tonight’s game as a learning experience for his younger players. After two weeks on the practice field, he’s excited to see what his team can do during live-game action.

“There’s only so much you can do in practice,” Sandy said. “(Tonight) will be about me finding out more about my team and how far along our kids have come. It’s hard to do that in practice and even during scrimmages. You get your best looks in game situations.”

Joe Mellenbruch covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.