Top 10 games of the Niles-Dowagiac series

Published 7:00 pm Monday, October 19, 2020

NILES — The Dowagiac-Niles series concluded in 2005 with the 102nd installment of one of the longest continuous rivalries in the state of Michigan.

The Chieftains traveled to Niles to conclude the series, which began in 1896. Niles holds a 49-47-5 lead all-time.

Here are the top 10 games of all-time:

  1. For the 1989 season, going into the Niles-Dowagiac clash, the Chieftains were undefeated at 8-0 and ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press State Class B polls.

The Vikings were 3-5 and hoping to repeat past histories. Niles once again came away with the big 13-9 upset.

  1. In 1936, coach Ora Morningstar brought his Dowagiac squad to Plym Park with the conference championship riding on the game. This started a long string of Niles-Dowagiac games, whose outcome would determine numerous championships, or a lack thereof. Niles knocked Dowagiac out of the title with a 13-0 victory.
  2. The 1934 Dowagiac squad was led by the two-time all-state fullback Art Frontzak. The Chieftains ran roughshod over the Vikings with a 12-0 victory and knocked Niles out of a Big Five title.
  3. The 1926 Thanksgiving Day game saw Dowagiac travel to Plym Park. The Chieftains were called the best team in Southwestern Michigan and were led by their brilliant fullback “Goose” Allen.

Dowagiac won 6-0, with the Girls Niles High School Athletic Club providing the Thanksgiving afternoon meal.

  1. The 1957 Chieftains were led by Roy Kramer and the truly great “Brothers Behrman” — Dan and Dave. Dowagiac defeated Niles 19-0 for its first undefeated and untied season.
  2. Dowagiac came into the 1963 contest undefeated, ranked No. 9 in the Class B polls and in first place in the conference standings. Niles won 21-0 and ended up winning the conference crown once again. The Vikings also ruined another outstanding Chieftain season.
  3. In the 1960 campaign, for the second consecutive season, Dowagiac came into the contest undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Class B state polls and No. 1 in the conference. The Chieftains did have a tie with Buchanan, so whoever won this game won the conference title. The Vikings won 20-14 over Dowagiac for the second consecutive season.
  4. Dowagiac entered the 1959 contest undefeated at 7-0 and in first place in the state Class B polls. The conference championship again rested on this contest. It was also the Chieftains’ homecoming. The two school’s JV squads were also undefeated going into the game. Niles’ JV won 19-7, and the big Vikes defeated Dowagiac 13-6 to capture the conference title.
  5. The 2003 campaign saw the legendary Niles-Dowagiac rivalry for the 100th time in the Vikings’ stadium. Niles was 6-1, ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press Class B polls and in first place in the SMAC West Division. The Chieftains were 4-3 under first-year head coach Mike Stanger. After four bitterly but cleanly fought quarters, an excellent group of “game” Chieftains had tied the Vikings 28-28.

In the second overtime, an unlikely hero emerged for the underdog, but proud Dowagiac team. The Chieftains’ capable placekicker, Hillary Bisnett calmly converted a 24-yard field goal for a heart-pounding 31-28 victory over a stunned group of Niles Vikings and their fans.

It was a most appropriate ending for the 100th game between these two great rivals.

  1. In the 1972 “war,” the most controversial game of all time occurred. Niles fans still call it the “Edgar Wilson game.”

With 44 seconds remaining in the rain-soaked game, the Chieftains had just scored and closed the Viking’s gap, 14-13. Wilson, Dowagiac’s kicker, lined up for the kick, but instead, he took a direct snap and ran around the left end for a 2-point try. At the four-yard line, Wilson was tackled with an ensuing fumble. Game over, Niles wins. Wrong. The officials ruled that Wilson had crossed the goal line before fumbling and Dowagiac won 15-14.

Many of Niles fans forgot what a truly great athlete Wilson was because of this play and during the basketball season. In the Vikings-Chieftains’ hoops game that winter, Wilson scored a basket for the Vikings and told them, “there’s your two points back.”

Old Vikings still love to hate Wilson for that really humorous act of youthful school loyalty.


(Bill Shoumake, a Niles graduate, wrote a pair of books about the Dowagiac-Niles football series entitled “My Friday Night Heroes: Niles High School Pigskin Autumns Volume II 1949-2001”)