The annual football game between Liberty County High School and Bradwell Institute is one of the most-anticipated games for local fans.
The winning team gets to hold the Commissioners Cup, and for the last three years, Liberty has held the trophy. But this is a new season for the Tigers. They have spent a complete year under the guidance of head coach Greg Hill. They are bigger from an entire offseason of training and are determined to do better than last season’s 0-10 record.
And after last week’s 28-6 win in a scrimmage at Toombs County, Bradwell is even hungrier for another win.
“Our guys played hard, and we ended up with more points than the other team, which is always good,” Hill said about the scrimmage. “But there was tons to go back and look at, which was good that we had the chance to go back and look at film and have the time to make corrections.
This year’s game, which is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Donell Woods Stadium, is the first regular-season game for the Tigers, and they know it is a huge deal.
“The main thing is to take care and worry about ourselves and take care of the things we can control,” Hill said. “That has been the focus this week. We know it is going to be an intense game.”
The coach said quarterback Duane Johnson, in his second year of leading BI’s offense, looked more poised against Toombs County.
“You tend to be more comfortable and have more of an awareness of what is going on and what the defense is trying to do,” Hill said, adding that Johnson had completions, but also a few misses, during the scrimmage. “Hopefully, we will improve on that.”
The Tigers have a strong running game led by Luther Echols.
“We expect big things out of Luther, but you just can’t rely on one guy,” Hill said. “We have other guys who play just as hard and fast as he does. If we can get 11 players on the same sheet of music, I expect us to be able to move the ball.”
The coach added that Echols has invested many hours during the offseason preparing for his senior year.
“And when you are invested like he has been, we expect good things to happen,” Hill said.
The Panthers likely are a bit hungry, too. Their fourth-quarter comeback attempt at Effingham County last Friday fell short because of time constraints. The 20-14 loss left a bad taste, and starting off the season at 0-1 is something they want to rectify.
Liberty head coach Kirk Warner said it was tough having one of their touchdowns called back against Effingham, and throwing two interceptions inside their own 10-yard line didn’t help. But special-teams errors really killed the Panthers’ chances at Effingham County.
“We had a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown. ... Later, we had the momentum and got ready to kick off, and for the first time in my 23 years of coaching, the kicker missed the ball. It just laid there, so Effingham gets it on the 40-yard line,” Warner said. “That gave them a short field, and they scored on that possession.”
The coach added that penalties also were huge concerns.
“The offense moved the ball, but when you have to go 60-plus yards ... and penalties … special team and penalties have to improve,” Warner said.
Warner said the Panthers are playing to win Friday, and it has nothing to do with the local rivalry.
“(Winning) is all we are concerned about, whether it’s Bradwell, McIntosh (County Academy) or BC (Benedictine),” he said. “We are trying to get on the winning side of the column. ... Our guys are going to be hyped, but we have to be smart about it, and we have to let the game come to us and not try to play outside of our abilities.”