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Murphy: Rivalry ready for renewal

POSTED: September 18, 2008 5:01 a.m.

I think it’s safe to say that Gainesville High has the most exciting football team in Region 7-AAA to watch this season. The Red Elephants (3-0) have the most electrifying athletes, most dangerous quarterback and best defensive production — this side of Buford.

It’s been an interesting story to follow, with the emergence of Gainesville juniors Blake Sims at quarterback and wide receiver T.J. Jones. These two burst on the scene this season and have lifted the Red Elephants clearly to the front of the pack.

But there’s something bigger than the individual players on display this week for the Red Elephants. This is Gainesville-North Hall week, and everything centers around this rivalry that has drastically intensified since it was rekindled in 2002.

Gainesville may have the upper hand in terms of flashy players this season, but North Hall (1-1) shouldn’t be taken lightly. The Trojans have a solid unit back this season after a trip to the state semifinals last season, and would love nothing more to bounce back with a win against Gainesville.

Don’t put too much emphasis on North Hall’s last outing against Class AA’s No. 1 ranked Buford (3-0). The Trojans have had two weeks to prepare for the Gainesville game, and erase the loss to the Wolves from their memory.
Most long-time locals realize the magnitude of this rivalry. It’s just good old fashioned backyard bragging rights. Gainesville doesn’t like North Hall. The Trojans don’t like the guys that play at City Park too much either.

“This is a big game to this community,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “That’s the Army-Navy game, Georgia-Georgia Tech game, you name that game and you can throw the records out the window.

“It’s just a big rivalry game.”

But in all truthfulness, those feelings really only exist on the field, and that’s what makes this rivalry so unique. Many of these kids know each other away from the field and probably keep up a friendly relationship — just not when they play each other.

Not when these two programs are battling it out for a chance to remind their counterparts that they won on the football field for another year.

Another interesting nugget about this rivalry is the region championship implications. Since 2002, the winner of this rivalry game has gone on to win the Region 7-AAA title in all but one instance (in 2006 North Hall lost to Gainesville 29-28, but won the region title). Gainesville and North Hall each have three region titles in Region 7-AAA since 2002.

All the buildup and pageantry for this rivalry make for a great game day experience. A packed out stadium is a given. And fans between the two schools will be giving their two-cents worth back-and-forth between each other throughout town and on internet message boards leading up to Friday’s game.

Already I’ve seen signs around town that everyone is gearing up for the big game. On a run around downtown Gainesville on Sunday, I saw a black SUV with ‘Stomp the Trojans’ with an accompanying red hoof over the top prominently painted on the back window. As the week progresses, more and more fans are going to catch the game day spirit on both sides. It’s hard to find a regular season game with this kind of buildup.

I’ll never forget showing up early the for the game at City Park last season to see the North Hall section already packed to capacity an hour before kickoff. That was the best crowd I’ve seen at a high school game that wasn’t played at the Georgia Dome. I expect a very similar scene this season.

This is without doubt the best rivalry that Hall County has to offer. I’ll give my prediction with the game preview on Friday.



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