You don't have to be a big-time college football program like Ohio State or Michigan to have a good old fashioned rivalry. Two teams hungry for bragging rights will suffice.
With one game under their belts, the Alcovy Tigers roll into Sharp Stadium tonight looking to prove they belong in the discussion of who is top football team in Newton County. If they are to make that claim, they will have to beat an Eastside team that looked the part Thursday night against Harris County.
Eastside comes into the game riding the emotion of a 28-0 pounding it put on Harris County in week one. The Eagles looked unstoppable in their opener, scoring on their first two possessions and four times out of eight touches. If not for a fumble in the end zone toward the end of the first half and a coaching decision to run out the clock at the end of the game, with the ball inside the 10-yard line, the score could have easily been 42-0.
Both teams looked good on defense, especially Alcovy which held Newton to 57 yards of total offense and kept the Rams off the scoreboard. The Tigers swarmed to the ball and Matt Gunnels has been as good as advertised so far as he racked up six tackles with three sacks and one forced fumble against a fast Rams team. Rod Tolen played well in his debut at cornerback as he pitched in with an interception in the end zone to help preserve Alcovy's shutout. But the Tigers will have to score more than three points if they are to beat an Eastside team that seemingly scored at will in their game.
Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said after Thursday's victory that his team played the best opener he's seen thus far. Heading into the game, Hurst said he was concerned about the short week and didn't really know what to expect. Everything went well for the fourth-year coach, especially on offense where he saw veteran quarterback Justin Wray pick apart the Harris County defense to the tune of 121 yards passing including a perfect 9-for-9 first half start.
"They surpassed what I was anticipating," Hurst said after Thursday's game. "They executed to the highest level than we have in a long time."
Both teams come in to the game healthy, and even though Hurst said Wray bruised a thigh midway through the game against Harris County, both coaches will have their key players available.
"We have a few minor injuries," Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. "We don't have anything that should keep anyone out of the game."
Eastside will get Rashad Hill back from a one-game suspension and Hurst expects him, along with Broderick Alexander, to shoulder the load at running back.
For the past two years, the meeting between the two teams, located a mere 10 miles apart, meant more than just another game. Now that Alcovy has moved to Region 8-AAAA and Eastside has dropped down to 8-AAA, the two schools' paths cross, but the game does not have any league ramifications. That doesn't mean these guys aren't fired up about the meeting.
"This is a big game because it is the next game on our schedule," Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. "But it's big because it's also a rivalry game."
The Tigers should be able to keep pace with the Eagles on defense, but Alcovy will need to put up some points. Based on their first game, it's a safe bet the Eagles will score more than three points. Then again, they haven't played a team with the defensive speed Alcovy possesses.
So far, Eastside has shown the ability to score after long drives. Alcovy will have to force short series and win the turnover battle to be successful. If it comes down to special teams, Alcovy may have the edge in kicker Kyle Voltjoski whom Hoffman regards as one of the best he's coached. Chances are he may get a shot at helping his team win.
Whatever the case, Hoffman knows his team will need to take care of the ball and take advantage when they get the ball close to the end zone. After failing to score a touchdown after three trips deep in Newton's territory last week, the Tigers will be looking to capitalize on every opportunity.
"We have to execute every play and we need to get better every down," Hoffman said. "Mistakes against a team like Eastside can hurt you."