One thing that will never grow old is playing your rival.
It’s true in college football and even in the National Football League to a degree (the long-time Saints-Falcons rivalry comes to mind), but in no place is it more special than at the high school level.
Evidence of that will be on display at W. Clair Harris Stadium this Friday, Oct. 4, when the Winder-Barrow High School football team will host Apalachee High School in the region opener for both schools. What will transpire on the field Friday will almost certainly be enjoyable to watch if nothing else than because of the importance of the outcome.
No doubt local fans of both schools remember what happened last season on the football field.
By the time the game was over, the AHS Wildcats had pulled victory from the jaws of defeat and had earned their biggest win in almost a decade. There has not been a celebration of that nature for AHS football since the team won two state playoff games at home in 2009.
Typically, coaches try to downplay local rivalries. The reason is simple. It’s best not to focus on one game or one opponent, even if it’s the one from across town.
In reality, the most important part of the game this week will be the fact that it is the region opener for both schools. In a region setup where teams only have five opponents, it makes victory in every contest vital.
There have been some classic battles in this series but for the most part one school has dominated for stretches at a time. We may be at a point where the matchup will continue to be competitive similar to what happened in the overtime battle last season.
Rivalry games tend to have a lot of twists and turns in them. One team may seem to have the advantage only to see the momentum taken away. That simply adds to the enjoyment.
What we had last season was two teams being led by their respective defenses. A 0-0 tie after four quarters is very rare in high school football today where high-powered offenses are typically the norm.
WBHS finally put the first points of the game on the board in overtime but missed on the point-after kick, leaving the door open just enough for AHS. It appeared, however, the Wildcats would fall short as they faced a fourth-and-goal from beyond the Bulldogg 20-yard line following multiple penalties.
Yet that special magic about a rivalry matchup raised its head once again as AHS connected for the tying touchdown thrown by its backup quarterback on fourth-and-22. Prior to that play the Wildcats had reached the end zone, but a holding penalty deleted that score.
Right out of a football movie script, the Wildcats then were dealt a sack by the Bulldogg defense and then were backed up with two more offensive penalties. Yet the script was custom made for AHS, at least in 2018.
The competitive nature of the 2018 game was great for this series, great for local high school football and great for students and fans of both schools. Players and coaches would probably prefer a one-sided victory, but what transpired on the field last year at this time is the way games of this nature should be.
In coming seasons and even decades, this rivalry will be special. The strong defensive effort turned in last season by both teams was only part of the formula. You had WBHS taking a lead in overtime. Then you had AHS scoring an improbable touchdown and the game-winning extra point.
The celebration by the Wildcat fans and the heartbreak for the Bulldoggs was just a fraction of the things which made that version of the Battle of Barrow so memorable.
It will be tough to top that game in 2019, but it will be fun building up the hype and watching another game play out.
The Battle of Barrow Trophy currently resides at AHS but something tells me WBHS will do everything in its power to regain possession.
See you at the game.