With a chain wrapped around its neck, an ewe dangled from South Sevier High School's goalpost in Monroe Wednesday morning in an apparent mockery of the school's mascot, a ram. The animal reportedly died of a gunshot wound to the head.
"This rivalry has been going on for years and years," said Sevier County sheriff's Deputy Russell Mason. "Maybe it got a little out of hand."
While the Richfield High School Wildcats and South Sevier Rams have clashed historically, competition has intensified this season as the two schools, just eight miles apart, battle for a fourth-place slot in the Division 2-A playoffs. The teams' seedings hung on Wednesday's game. South Sevier won 26-6.
Instead of spicing up the rivalry with a little spray paint - as Richfield fans did once by adding an "A" in front of South Sevier's signature "SS" on the mountain - authorities say at least two Richfield fans shot a sheep, dragged it onto South Sevier's football field and fastened it to the goal post with a chain and padlocks.
"This not just a childish prank," said John P. Fox, chief investigator for the Humane Society of Utah. "An animal died because of this."
Fox urged prosecution of the pranksters, whom he condemned as destroying life for entertainment.
Sevier County authorities say the perpetrators could face charges of vandalism, criminal mischief, trespassing, cruelty to animals or theft, depending on how the story unfolds. They also could face school discipline.
"We do not condone that [behavior]," said Sevier School District Superintendent Brent M. Thorne. "It is highly inappropriate."
The superintendent said the student offenders - if there are any - likely would face suspension.
Authorities say they are hot on the pranksters' trail, thanks to a pair of shiny padlocks used at the scene.
Deputies traced the locks to a local Wal-Mart store, where security camera footage showed two individuals making the purchase. With the help of school administrators, deputies identified one of the customers as a Richfield student, Mason said.
Although a bit grotesque, South Sevier football coach Travis McAllister said the sheep slaying fired up his players.
"It's part of the rivalry," the coach said. "It gives our kids an incentive to play harder."
McAllister admitted to a few chuckles upon hearing about the prank, but said the students went too far. He urged his players Wednesday not to reciprocate.
"Your retaliation needs to be on the football field," he told them.