Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

The Oregon State-Oregon college football rivalry holds deep significance in Del Norte County

Eric Wier and Ryan Wakefield have a friendly annual wager on the outcome of today's Civil War football game between the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.

If the Beavers defeat the Ducks in Corvallis, Wakefield has to treat Wier, Oregon State Class of 2002 and utilities director for Crescent City/Smith River, to a meal for Wier and his wife, Amber, at the Steelhead Lodge in Klamath. Should the Ducks triumph, Wakefield and his wife, Katie, will enjoy dinner with Eric Wier footing the bill.

"And I usually win," says Ryan Wakefield, a fire captain at Pelican Bay State Prison.

Indeed, Wakefield has dined out at Wier's expense each of the last four years. The Ducks hold a 59-46-10 advantage over the Beavers in a series that dates to 1894. (Oregon Agricultural College - now Oregon State - defeated UO 16-0. Oregon returned the favor with a 44-0 victory over OAC in 1895.)

Del Norte County loves its football, from the youth ranks to the professional game. The college game in particular attracts a lot of eyes on fall Saturdays, with the Ducks and the Beavers occupying, presumably, the largest share of college football fandom amid the redwoods.

A 2011 study by Harris Interactive found that 13 percent of American sports-loving adults voted college football their favorite sport, tied with baseball (13 percent) and a ways behind pro football (36 percent). In 1989, a similar study found that six percent of adults favored college football over all others. The interest in the college game has grown nationally, and certainly in Del Norte County.

But why do a pair of state schools attract attention in a town outside that state?

One reason is proximity. Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, is 220 miles north of here; Oregon State University is 266 miles north, in Corvallis. The University of California, Berkeley, is the next closest college with a Football Bowl Subdivision football program, 356 miles south of Crescent City. Stanford University is 388 miles south. (Humboldt State University in Arcata plays in NCAA Division II.)

"I think Del Norte County relates more to the state of Oregon than the Southern California aspect of life," says Clinton Schaad, an assistant wrestling coach at Del Norte High and a longtime Oregon State fan. "You look at voting, look at politics - Southern Oregon and Del Norte County are similar (compared with) Southern California and Norther California. We don't necessarily exist - that far north, isn't that Oregon?"

The University of Oregon Alumni Association counts 40 registered alumni living in Del Norte County, compared with 35 OSU graduates that are Oregon State University Alumni Association members. While it is likely that more graduates of both schools live in the area, it seems that the Ducks are more popular than the Beavers.

"I would say that every year it's growing and becoming increasingly more intense and I really appreciate that," Wakefield says. "People are jumping sides and making it more exciting. Ten years ago, there were just a few fans one way or other."

Winning certainly helps: The Ducks have won 66 games from 2006andndash;11; the Beavers have won 44. Oregon has played in two Rose Bowls and a BCS National Championship game over the past three seasons, which has caught the interest of casual fans. Nike founder and mega-booster Phil Knight's gifts to UO, financial or otherwise, have also increased visibility.

"Even with football aside, maybe the Ducks had more following because people would make weekend trips to Eugene for shopping," says Mike Zeck, a Del Norte High graduate who played fullback on the Oregon football team (1999-2001). "The U of O kinda defines Eugene, but there's a few hundred thousand people, and there's a lot of culture in Eugene. I think there might be less of that in Oregon State."

Oregon State University resonates with many Del Norte County fans due to the school's focus on agriculture, forestry and other industrial and scientific research.

"Corvallis isn't a very big place, like Del Norte County or Crescent City," Schaad says. "It's not a real big school, but they work hard."

Zeck has put his skin in the game as a former Duck player. The late Bill Sullivan attended Del Norte High and played quarterback for Oregon State in the 1960s. Sullivan backed up Terry Baker, the Heisman Trophy winner of 1962.

Once the turkey and stuffing are put away, the green and yellow of Oregon and the orange and black of Oregon State will be brought out for today's game, televised at noon on the Pac-12 network, which is not available to Charter subscribers.

Wier has an Oregon State flag that he flies outside of his house for game days. Wakefield can counter with an 8-foot-tall inflatable Oregon Duck. ("It's actually been taken hostage a couple times," he says.)

Dinner will be on the loser at a date to be determined.

Reach Robert Husseman