One of the biggest rivalries in the Henderson County area kicks off Friday at Bruce Field in the regular season opener.
The Athens Hornets and Brownsboro Bears meet for the thirdtime in the Highway 31 championship.
The series is currently tied 1-1 following the Hornets 33-14 victory last year. It was coach Zac Harrell’s first victory with the Hornets.
“It was a special one for me and I will always remember that game,” Harrell said. “Going into year two, both teams will be ready to go from the get go. They will be fired up and there is a lot of emotion in the game. We have talked to our kids all week about it in maintaining our composure and intensity throughout.”
This is the 19th meeting in the history of the series with both teams tied at nine wins a piece.
“We are looking for our guys to get out there on Friday and play with great effort and love each other,” Harrell said after the Canton scrimmage. “We want them to buy into our core values, and if we do that we will let the scoreboard take care of itself. We have been preparing for that matchup for a long time, and coach (Greg) Pearson does a great job. He will have them guys ready and excited to play. It will be fun.”
Harrell said he was shocked to know of the numbers of the series overall.
“As far as this rivalry, the towns are so close and all these kids know each other,” Harrell said. “A lot of them grew up playing peewee football together so it is a great clean rivalry. It is two programs that respect each other, and a lot of times rivalries can get nasty and ugly. Since I have been here, I have not seen any of that. It is a highly contested game.”
Brownsboro coach Greg Pearson said after the scrimmage against Silsbee they had some areas to work on in preparation for this week.
“We have a ways to go, but I was proud of the way we hung in there after things didn’t start out real good. Now we can turn our attention to the old Hornets,” Pearson said.
The Bears will be led on offense by Marcos Molina, Ja’Tavien Sessions and Kyle Nichols. Quarterback Lane Epperson is expected to get the start at quarterback.
“They do what they do, and they want to run the football offensively,” Harrell said. “They will have three to five trick plays, which is really part of their offense with their halfback pass.”
Defensively, Jack Epperson will be a player to watch, along with free safety Shayden Jennings.
Brownsboro will be young on the offensive and defensive sides with only four offensive starters and three defensive starters.
“Brownsboro lost some guys last year, and they have some youth at their skill positions,” Harrell said. “Most of their linemen that played last year are returning starters.”
The Hornets look to start out strong with Nathan Sims and Jecorey Roberts at running back, while Ty Arroyo or Daniel Stanley will get the nod at quarterback. Harrell said the starter would be a game-time decision.
In 2019, Sims had 1,371 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns and 74 tackles on defense. Sims is expected to play on both sides of the ball again this year.
Roberts led on the ground with 14 carries for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown last year against the Bears.
Harrell said defensively he is ready to see what the Hornets do against Brownsboro in the home opener.
“It is important on defense that we play assignment football and not start sneaking in the backfield and be really sound,” Harrell said.
Harrell said his keys to victory are always discussed on Monday of game week.
“We want to maintain our composure and not get too high or too low,” Harrell said. “We have to keep playing for 48 minutes and play assignment football. We also have to win the special teams in all aspects of this game. A lot of times rivalry games are decided on all areas of the special teams. We want to play harder and more physical than they do.”
A special sticker will be on the Hornets helmets this year in remembrance of former Superintendent Blake Stiles, who passed away May 13.
“Mr. Stiles meant a lot to this community and the athletics programs,” Harrell said. “Mr. Stiles loved sports, athletics and these kids. We had such a tragic loss and we want his legacy and his memory to carry on. We want him to be remembered in everything that we do. It is an honor and a tribute to a great man who did a lot for Athens ISD and for this team. He was a special man.”
Athens travels to the Waxahachie LifeMustangs next week, while Brownsboro hosts the Fairfield Eagles. Both games are scheduled to kickoff at 7:30 p.m.