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Garces on the road for 54th Holy Bowl on Saturday at SJM

The Holy Bowl rivalry began in 1947 on the infield of an auto raceway in Oildale in 1947.

Garces has just opened weeks before and there was not a grass field on campus to house a football game.

Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial won 18-6 over Garces, when the athletic programs went by the Shamrocks before the school adopted the Ram as the official mascot. 

For decades, the Holy Bowl was a football-only affair and Saturday night’s game at 7:30 p.m. at SJM will be the 54th meeting between the two programs. 

But since 1996, it’s turned into an all-day affair as the Garces volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf and football teams traveling two-hours north for the annual competition against the only other high school in the Fresno Diocese.

In 1996, the Thez-Carroll Cup was created. The perpetual trophy is awarded to the victor with most varsity athletic wins during each school year. Since its inception, Garces leads the all-time series, 20-0-3.

Spanning eight decades, The Holy Bowl is the oldest parochial school rivalry in Central Valley history with Memorial leading the all-time series, 29-21-3.

San Joaquin Memorial was created by the Christian Brothers and opened its doors in 1947. Two years later, some of those same brothers founded Garces Memorial, and thus the rivalry began.

Memorial won the first three games and looked like it would be four consecutive in 1951 before that game ended in controversy and was called a 13-13 tie, the first of three such ties in the series.

This rivalry has also been played in the postseason with the first such meeting in the Central Section championships in 1991 with Memorial beating the Rams 27-10 after Garces won the regular season game, 42-19, earlier in the year.

Again, the two met in the playoff quarterfinals in 1994, with the Panthers victorious 21-18. Garces won the 2002 Sequoia Small School title over the Panthers in 42-39, in what has since been called the “Super ‘Holy’ Bowl.” 

Garces was 11-0 heading into the finals and the lone loss for the Panthers came in the Holy Bowl competition in a 38-7 Rams victory.

The Rams led 35-11 early in the fourth quarter in the section finals before SJM stormed back to get the game within three points, only to have Garces hold on for one of the more exciting section championships in recent history.

But what has truly made the “Holy Bowl Saturday” such a wonderful event over the past two-plus decades is the inclusion of other fall sports to the competition.

The day will begin with the frosh/soph volleyball game at 11 a.m. inside the gym at SJM on Saturday with JV and varsity matches to follow.

Over at Riverside Golf Course, which is 12 miles north on Highway 99 from the SJM campus, the girls golf teams are in competition beginning at noon.

At 1 p.m., the JV and varsity girls tennis team will square off at Fresno City College and the day concludes with the JV and varsity football teams in action beginning at 5 p.m. at SJM.

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