In his seven years spent at West Hall High, football coach Krofton Montgomery has noticed a trend the week of the team’s annual matchup against rival Johnson.
“When we play Johnson, we’re always focused in,” he said. “You don’t have to crank anybody up when we play them. It just seems like people are a little more alert, a little more crisp. Get there a little bit earlier, stay a little bit later.”
Though West Hall has won the Battle of Oakwood six years running, Montgomery said the rivalry has never been lacking for intensity. This week’s game — the 26th in the series between the two teams — will be no different, according to Montgomery.
First-year Johnson coach Stan Luttrell is coming into his first Battle of Oakwood at the helm of the Knights, but he’s noticed much of the same. This year, the game is at Spartans Stadium.
“It’s circled on everybody’s calendar as soon as the schedule comes out,” he said. “I think it’s important because of that rivalry.”
And while Montgomery said the heated nature of the game often brings out the best in his players, Luttrell said his focus this week has been on preventing the team from blowing the game out of proportion.
“I think the first battle we’ve got to conquer is the battle with ourselves,” he said. “We have to be focused on one play at a time … I think we’ve got to take that mental approach and not get distracted by all the rivalry stuff with all the big game stuff and just really focus on doing our job and doing what we’re coached to do.”
Johnson’s week of practice has been spent touching up the basics.
While the Knights managed to beat Oglethorpe County last week, Luttrell said his squad is still getting accustomed to entirely new offensive and defensive schemes.
Luttrell added that West Hall’s explosive athletes at skill positions and amongst the linebacking corps will be difficult to deal with, and he’s hoping to gain an advantage by keeping his team disciplined.
“People that know me know that I really like to focus on us,” he said. “I believe that more games are lost than won, and I believe that if we can focus on us and do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to have an opportunity to win more games.”
West Hall will focus on a similar principle.
Montgomery said his biggest concern tonight is a lack of commitment to assignment on the defensive side of the ball. Johnson’s triple-option attack requires the entire defense to be on the same page at all times. Playing “hero ball” could get the Spartans in serious trouble.
“You’ve got to play your responsibility,” Montgomery said. “If you’re playing the dive, you play the dive. If you’re playing the quarterback, you play the quarterback. If you decide you’re not going to play the quarterback that play, and that’s the scheme, and you decide you think you’re going to go make a play and the quarterback pulls it, they could hit a big one on you at any moment.”
No matter how this week’s game goes, bragging rights will be earned and lifelong memories made for the winning team. Though state and even region championship contention will not be on the line Friday night, pride certainly will be.
And when it comes to high school football, what more could you ask for?
“No matter who you are, that’s what football is about, especially high school football,” Luttrell said. “I think it’s cool to be the head coach in this rivalry, and I really look forward to Friday night to see how our guys handle it.”