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Who will bear the title — “Kings of Oakwood” — this year?
That will be the question of the hour for fans of West Hall and Johnson tonight, as the 23rd installment of the Battle of Oakwood kicks off at 7:30 p.m. from inside the “Dungeon” of Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.
“It’s great for both schools and the communities, and just good for high school football,” Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said of the rivalry. I feel like the kids have been focused and realize what this game means to both schools in our community.”
West Hall has run away with 14 of the 22 meetings since 1994, outscoring its in-county foe 98-9 in the last three.
For the seniors, this will be their final ride into the Battle of Oakwood, in front of a lively crowd.
“It’s pretty crazy,” West Hall senior Patrick Hudson said of the game atmosphere. “You got everybody rooting for us around the town, you know?”
“We’ve got friends over there, so it’s always excitement,” said senior Justin Hearn, inside linebacker for West Hall and friend of Johnson quarterback Sam Corbett. “It’s sad to be playing my last time against Johnson, because I’ve been playing them my whole life. But it’s mostly excitement.”
The last meeting featured an opportunistic Spartan defense which cashed in five Knight fumbles — four from inside the 20-yard-line — on the way to a 35-9 win at Spartan Field.
The Spartans displayed a flash of that same formula in a 20-10 loss to in-county rival Gainesville last week, as Patrick Hudson had a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown to bring the Spartans within reach of the Red Elephants at 13-10 with 6:58 left in the third quarter.
Spartans coach Tony Lotti was pleased with their morale boosting performance to start the year. But they don’t give out ribbons for effort according to Lotti. The fifth-year coach has been challenging his guys to pay less attention to the hype of a rivalry game and more so on the more important things — correcting last week’s mishaps for one.
Gainesville quarterback DJ Irons was one problem, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown against the Spartans, 167 of those yards on the receiving end of lead target Red Davis. Davis caught a pass over the middle in stride for a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown to put the visitors on the board in the second quarter. Davis came right back on the same play with a 69-yard reception to West Hall’s 2-yard-line, setting up Gainesville’s final score.
“Last week, we had a couple of blown coverages, so that cost us dearly,” Lotti added. “So we’ve been just shoring that up, and correcting those mistakes. Offensively, kind of the same deal. There were holes we didn’t hit.”
The Spartans’ new task at hand involves keeping a sharp eye on the feet of Knights’ mobile quarterback Sam Corbett. Corbett completed just 3-of-14 attempts, but rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown against Social Circle in week 1.
The Spartans sacked Gainesville’s Irons five times — four during the first half — in last week’s 20-10 loss.
“Johnson’s (Corbett), he’ll take off on you. … That’s what we’ll have to shut down,” Lotti said. “We’re just gonna have to play disciplined. We’re gonna have to read our ‘keys.’”
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore felt his guys did a lot of good things on the field against Social Circle last week. The Knights tallied 238 yards on the ground, Cody Long leading the way with 106 rushing yards. But they could only score on two-of-six trips to the read zone in the 19-14 loss.
“It was just one of those nights we couldn’t get out of our own way,” Roquemore said Wednesday. “We almost had 300 yards rushing, we had two drives that were over 10 plays. I thought we did a good job of running the football inside the tackles. It’s just one of those things.”
In order to snap a three-game losing streak, the Knights will have to hold off a prominent rushing attack led by Tyrese Osborne, who accrued 104 rushing yards against the Red Elephants.
“You look at them and they are very fast, very physical,” Roquemore said. “Any time you have those two attributes to prepare for, It’s going to be hard to match and simulate some of things they do very well in practice. But through our preparation and film study, and individual periods, we’re just gonna have to do a good job of making sure we come in prepared and be able to execute the things that we’re trying to execute.”