The phrase “more than a game” encompasses everything that the Newton/Eastside rivalry is to the people of Newton County.
At Newton’s softball game, where the team beat Locust Grove on Tuesday, I watched the game and heard fans talking about the Eagles/Rams upcoming scrimmage. The conversation was short but the people seemed anxious to watch Newton and Eastside despite the fact that it was only a scrimmage.
According to maxpreps.com, since 2004 the two teams are 5-5 against each other. Unlike last year’s game, which saw Eastside pull out a 34-28 victory late in the fourth quarter, this scrimmage doesn’t mean anything as far as regular season wins and losses go, but it means everything as far as bragging rights go.
“It always does. You don’t downplay it. (Newton head football coach Terrance Banks) can sit here and downplay it all he wants to if he wants, but he knows as well as I do. This is only his second year here, but this is my 10th and I know what it is going up against these guys, and what it means to these guys (Eastside players),” Eagles head coach Rick Hurst said. “It does take a little pressure off that it is a scrimmage, but you can’t tell them that because they wanna go out there and do well against their rival and that’s what matters. We can downplay it all we want to but these guys in green know what it means to go up against [Newton] and have some bragging rights even if it is a scrimmage.”
Banks did downplay the rivalry, as Hurst predicted, but said he still wants to get the win. Banks emphasized two things, the fact that the game is just a scrimmage and...the fact that it’s just a scrimmage.
“I’ll be honest with you, it’s a scrimmage. I know the fans are going to be upset with me when I say this, but I see no rivalry, it’s a scrimmage,” Banks said. “Until we play them in the regular season it’s just a scrimmage to us. We’re focused on Berkmar. To me, for the next two years we don’t even play Eastside. It’s a scrimmage game and we’re not doing anything special. We’re going to be very vanilla, working on the basics to get together. I know the fans are going to be upset with me, I know they wanna watch the scoreboard, and I apologize to them.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I want to win the game, but I’m not showing anything that I need for when the games count,” Banks said.
Banks compared the scrimmage to playing against your brother-in-law and said that the game would get the juices flowin’.
Although Hurst acknowledged the rivalry he did say that it’s just a game and it’s not the end of the world whether they win or lose. He added that he wants the team to get better each week and be ready when they play Alcovy on August 29.
Eagles standout quarterback Austin Holloway has been doing well in practice this summer, according to Hurst.
“He’s doing well. He had a real good scrimmage the other night, threw a couple deep balls that were probably 45-50 yards on the money,” Hurst said. “If we give him time and even if we don’t he can break out and make things happen. That’s what’s good about him is he can use his legs to create plays that might normally break down for somebody else. It’s good to have somebody back there that can run around and make something happen.”
The Eagles are adjusting to new assistant coaches in new tight ends coach Anderico Bailey and running backs coach Chuck Jordan.
“They’re doing great. They’re really responding to coach Jordan well and to coach Bailey well,” Hurst said. “I really enjoy having those guys out here. They’ve played at a high level. Coach Bailey being from here helps, so all of them know and have heard about him before. So it makes a big difference when they understand that he’s been here and knows how we expect them to play.”
The Rams have a bonafide beast at quarterback, too, in Romario Johnson. Banks said that Johnson is probably their only concrete starter and that he would only play the first quarter.
“We don’t have any concrete starters. We got one team on both sides of the ball. It’s some competition to be decided and those things will be answered on Friday,” Banks said. Banks added that he’ll probably play a freshman after he sits Johnson so that he could get some valued experience.
“We got some things that we want to try out. Because of the rules of the game and it being a scrimmage, it’s certain things that we’re not going to do. It’s certain things that we’re going to work on and see if it works,” Banks said.
“If it don’t look good on Friday we either gotta throw it away or refine it. That’s what Friday is about.”
Fans will pack Sharp Stadium on Friday night just to see two teams technically practice against each other. But if you think Newton and Eastside fans aren’t taking this seriously, then you’re wrong.