The Key to the County found its way back to Santa Ana today as long-time rivals Fullerton College Hornets and the Dons gathered for breakfast to renew a 94-year-old tradition that was once played on a rocky, uneven dirt field.
The event, held at The Hacienda restaurant adjacent to Santa Ana College, brought alums, incoming freshmen and veteran players together as they geared up for Saturday’s game, the biggest rivalry game of the season.
“We are two of the oldest colleges in the state and to have this kind of rivalry and this kind of history with our football programs, it’s really important that we keep it going,” SAC Vice President of Academic Affairs Carlos Lopez said.
Alums from the 1962 National Championship team — including Mike Anderson, Wilie Carlyle, Don Orr and Ken Purcell — were in attendance to provide moral support for the 2016 rendition of the Dons, who were 1-9 last season.
Early in their rivalry, the game was called the “Turkey Bowl,” as it was held on Thanksgiving, when thousands of fans attended the daytime game.
“I played in the 1962 game on Turkey Day,” Orr said.
A longtime Hornet fan, former Fullerton mayor and former state assemblyman Chris Norby introduced the Key to the County in 1997. As part of the tradition, a ceremony is held at the end of the game for the key presentation, Players of the Game plaques and a perennial trophy that will be handed over to the winner.
It would be a big win for the Dons, who have not beaten the Hornets in a decade.
Santa Ana College Head Coach Adam Nyssen is confident that his team is ready.
“Rivalry games are always fun,” said Nyssen, “I’m very excited to be able to carry on the tradition and to make sure we try to get the key back here to the school. “
Don sophomore quarterback Thomas Becerra realizes the importance of tomorrow’s game.
“This win would mean everything for us because it sets us up for the rest of the season,” said Becerra. “It’s the championship game only at the very beginning.”
The Key to the County game kicks off tomorrow at Eddie West Field in Santa Ana at 6 p.m.
Aurielle Weiss contributed to this report.