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Game of the Week: Johnson, West Hall open season in Battle of Oakwood
JohnsonPractice1 JP
Johnson running back Luis Hernandez carries the ball around his blockers during Thursday's practice in Oakwood. - photo by Jared Putnam

Johnson at West Hall

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood

Coaches: Johnson, Jason Roquemore; West Hall, Tony Lotti

Records: Johnson (0-0); West Hall (0-0)

Key players: Johnson, RB/S Luis Hernandez (6-1, 185, Sr.), OL/DL Devan McClay (6-3, 245, Sr.), DL Jesse Griggs (5-9, 210, Jr.), LB Caleb Herrin (6-1, 185, Sr.), DB Orion Pittman (5-11, 175, So.); West Hall, TE/DE Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250, Sr.), RB/DL Antonio Pittman (5-9, 225, Sr.), QB Zach English (5-10, 180, Sr.), DB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185, So.), OL/LB Ty Statham (6-0, 200, Jr.)

Battle of Oakwood
Series history
West Hall leads all-time series, 11-7-1
Last 10 meetings
2012: Johnson 19, West Hall 13
2011: West Hall 35, Johnson 21
2010: Johnson 33, West Hall 31
2009: Johnson 49, West Hall 45
2008: West Hall 56, Johnson 55
2007: Johnson 34, West Hall 18
2006: West Hall 13, Johnson 6
2005: West Hall 17, Johnson 7
2004: Johnson 24, West Hall 7
2003: Johnson 7, West Hall 6

The football teams at Johnson and West Hall need no introduction. The two teams know plenty about one another. And tonight, the two neighboring schools will renew one of Hall County’s most fiery rivalries.

The Knights of Johnson will make the short 11-mile drive across Oakwood to face the Spartans of West Hall in the annual Battle of Oakwood rivalry game. The game will serve as the season opener of both teams and kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. from a likely sold out Spartan Field.

“It is a great football game,” Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said. “It is great for high school football, for both communities and we look forward to playing in it.”

The two rivals have met every season since 1994, and West Hall leads the all-time series 11-7-1. Johnson, however, has won three of the last four meetings, including last season when the Knights beat the Spartans 19-13, ending a 12-game losing streak in the process.

“(The rivalry game) is fun,” West Hall coach Tony Lotti said. “It is fun because of the atmosphere is creates. It creates a great environment for high school football. Whenever you have two programs located as close as these two, and the history, it is a game that the whole community can get behind.”

The win over West Hall last season propelled the Knights into one of the most successful seasons in school history, as they finished with a 6-4 record, playing only non-region games.

For the Spartans, last season’s loss to Johnson started what was a difficult campaign that finished with a 3-7 record, which included a forfeit victory against eventual Class AAA state champion Buford.

Heading into tonight’s game, the Spartans are hoping a victory over the Knights can give them momentum heading into the remainder of the season, much like a victory did for the Knights last season.

“I’m hoping we can get out there and compete,” Lotti said. “Anytime you can get a win, the locker room is a heck of a lot nicer of a place to be around. But I do think a win would help our confidence.”

If anything is true about this rivalry, which awards a piece of oak to the winning team each season, it is the ability to produce nail-biting finishes. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by six or few points, including in 2008 when West Hall edged Johnson 56-55 and in 2010 when Johnson beat West Hall 33-31.

While West Hall is looking to build momentum off the win, Johnson is looking to keep its momentum from last season going through this season and into 2014, when the school will once again start playing a region schedule following a two-year hiatus.

“It is important to go out and play well anytime that you do play,” Roquemore said. “It does help when you get out to a good start like we did last year.”

Tonight will mark the first time the Spartans will play against another team this season, after failing to secure an opponent for a preseason scrimmage. Given that they have gone almost four weeks of beating up on teammates, the Spartans are eagerly looking forward to tonight’s game against their rival.

The key, though, is being able to control their emotions in the early part of the game, says Lotti.

“We’ve been talking about that and talking about making sure we control the emotions,” said Lotti, who is entering his second season as the Spartans’ head coach.

“We want to be enthused, but at the same time we want to make sure it is a controlled enthusiasm and that we don’t do anything that can be uncharacteristic of how I expect our football team to perform.”

A disadvantage of not holding a scrimmage is the inability to recreate a Friday night game atmosphere. Lotti said instead of holding a split-squad scrimmage, the Spartans focused on fundamentals and putting all effort on tonight’s season opener.

Johnson enters this week’s season opener after playing Loganville last week in a preseason scrimmage in Oakwood.

Roquemore, who is also entering his second season as a head coach, said he learned a lot about his team and admitted he thought the Knights “were ahead of where we were last year.”

“I thought our quarterback play of Kavin Hopkins was better than we expected,” Roquemore said of the scrimmage.

“He was 23 of 26 on reads through the mesh. I was impressed with the way that he is progressing and the way he is picking up schemes.”

One major theme throughout the first three weeks of practice has been the large amount of rainfall. Fortunately for West Hall and Johnson, there is only a 20 percent chance of rain forecasted for tonight’s meeting.

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