Reclassification may have made Friday night’s matchup between Fulton High School and Central less important than in years past, but that does not mean the rivalry has any less weight.
“There’s a lot riding on this,” Fulton head coach Rob Black said. “They are a state runner-up and beat us twice last year. This has been a rivalry game since the ‘50s, so they don’t get much bigger than this.
Up until this season, the Falcons and Bobcats occupied the same region, making each of their yearly contests not only a battle for bragging rights, but also for taking a step toward the playoffs.
A move from Class 4A to Class 5A pushed the schools out of regional conflict, with Fulton going to Region 3-5A and Central to Region 2-5A. Even with the two programs venturing away from each other, though, there still remains a level of competiveness.
“We haven’t talked about the rivalry a whole lot, but fortunately we haven’t had to,” Central head coach Bryson Rosser said. “In just the three years I’ve been here, we’ve had some really good games with those guys. You don’t have to do a lot of talking about the rivalry with these guys because they know. Some of them play youth league together, they went to school together at some point growing up, so there isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said.”
The two schools first met in 1951 — Central won the first game 32-0 — and have played 51 times since, with the Bobcats posting a 33-17-2 against the Falcons.
Central kicked off its road to a second consecutive state championship appearance with a 33-19 victory over Tennessee, while Fulton watched the first week of the high school football season from the sideline.
The Falcons may have had an extra week of preparation, but the Bobcats have already shed the first-game jitters.
“We worry a little bit about the discipline and mistakes that always happen in the first game,” Black said. “They have one (game) under their belt, but on the other hand, it gave us an extra week to prepare. We also had a few nagging injuries that this past week was good for as far as getting those guys back and available this week.”
However, given their past both teams know each other well, putting themselves in position to overcome the situation this early season schedule has put them both in.
“I know some things have changed on their end,” Rosser said. “They got a new defensive coordinator who we actually went against while he was at another school, so there is some familiarity there. But then again, you know there is always something new coming. It’s a matter of having your kids best prepared for what you think may happen and then, as coaches, being ready to make adjustments.”
Both schools understand how much this game means. The rivalry is important to both sides, but this early in the season, this game also represents a barometer to see where both sides stand in achieving their goal of making a deep run in the playoffs.
“This a great measuring stick game for us,” Black said. “It’s a non-region game, yet it is a huge game for us. We’ll know a lot about ourselves Friday night when this one is over and hopefully we’ll be able to get some things ironed out and some other spots straightened out.”