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Johnson, West Hall preparing for 'biggest game' with Battle of Oakwood rivalry matchup
Knights hope to break streak, while Spartans looking to secure third straight win in series
Johnson High quarterback Sam Corbett fights for yardage near the goal line Friday night as the Knights threaten to score during the first half of the 2015 season-opening game with Madison County at Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium.

Read previews of all area Week 1 football games here:

Game of the Week: Johnson at West Hall

Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood

When: 7:30 tonight

Last year: West Hall won 28-0

Radio: 1330-AM


Tonight’s games

Buford vs. Berkmar

Chestatee at Flowery Branch

Commerce at Banks County

Dawson County vs. Forsyth Central

East Hall vs. Wesleyan

Gainesville vs. Grayson

Habersham Central vs. Rabun County

Jackson County at Madison County

Jefferson vs. Winder-Barrow

Johnson at West Hall

Lakeview Academy vs. East Jackson

Riverside Military vs. Fellowship Christian

White County at Pickens

A strong arm, combined with a smart sense of downfield receivers? Check.

Ability to scramble when needed for positive yardage? Check.

Loathing of all things related to rival school West Hall? Double check.

“I’ve hated West Hall all my years,” said Corbett, who led the Knights with 70 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 17-0 season-opening win against Madison County last week. “Ever since I played with the South Hall Junior Knights, I have. The older guys here do a great job of showing me, you don’t like those guys. When you come up against them, you give them a little more oomph when you hit them.”

Let the latest installment of the Battle of Oakwood begin.

Johnson (1-0) will travel fewer than five miles across town today to play perennial rival West Hall in the 22nd installment of the annual rivalry matchup. The Spartans lead the series record 13-7-1, and have beaten the Knights in the past two years.

It’s a rivalry that’s inspired two hype songs, specific game plans, and plenty of good-natured ribbing on social media.

Most importantly, the winner of this game will get the bragging rights of having their team logo branded on a nearly six-foot long wooden board that lives at the victor’s school and serves as the official record book in the rivalry. West Hall running back/defensive back Kwon Williams said Thursday that none of his teammates want to see Johnson take that honor back.

Williams was a freshman when the Knights last won the Battle of Oakwood in 2012.

“This is the Battle of Oakwood, this is the biggest game of the regular season for us,” said Williams. “It means a lot. We don’t want to see them on our field, with that board, putting a number on it ... I’ve got to make sure I go out with a win. I kind of look at it as redemption. I’d rather come away 3-1 against Johnson than 2-2.”

To do that, the Spartans will need to match a considerable Johnson rushing offense, which accrued over 300 yards in last week’s Week 0 win. West Hall has three strong returning starters to its own rushing offense in Williams, Tyquan Statham and Malcolm Prather.

They’ll be running behind a young offensive line, which features four new starters after last season’s run to a Region 7-AAA title. Spartans head coach Tony Lotti said he’ll be looking for two-year starting quarterback Jacob Satterfield to “get the kinks out” early, so he can be a passing threat by region play.

The rivalry both unites and polarizes the Oakwood community, according to Lotti, who is entering his fourth year at West Hall. 

“These kids have grown up together,” he said. “The schools are two miles apart. They know each other from churches, grocery stores, maybe even elementary schools. There’s always friendly banter back and forth, but it’s able to energize the schools, and even get kids involved that may not have done without it.”

Johnson, which has endured 2-8 seasons in back-to-back years, looks poised to turn the corner. The Knights pitched a shutout against Madison County at home, with senior defensive linemen Eli Vasquez leading from the front.

Wide receiver/defensive back standout Orion Pittman looked impressive on both sides of the ball, while Corbett did well to manage a nearly eight-minute long drive in the second half that chewed precious time off the clock for the Red Raiders to attempt a comeback.

The freshman shook off a poor start when he fumbled the ball away on his first drive as the Knights’ quarterback. Jogging back to the sideline, quarterbacks coach Caleb Carmean was none too pleased, according to Corbett.

Corbett wasn’t shaken.

“It was just those initial jitters,” said Corbett. “I messed up one play, but I reassured him, I just said ‘It’s going to be OK. I’ve got it.’”

Then, the freshman went out and proved it.

He’ll need to have the same impact when he enters his first rivalry matchup tonight at Spartan Field.

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