Darlington football

Darlington quarterback Griffin Brewster (8) returns from having to sit out most of last season as he and the Tigers host Pepperell in the opening game of 2019 on Friday at Chris Hunter Stadium.

Game: Pepperell (0-0) at Darlington (0-0)

Last meeting: Darlington 44, Pepperell 14 (Aug. 17, 2018)

All-time series: Pepperell leads 13-10

On the air: WQTU-FM 102.3, WLAQ-AM 1410 and FM 96.9

Darlington’s School’s Chris Hunter Stadium will likely be packed Friday as the Tigers host the Pepperell Dragons in the only matchup of the night featuring both opponents from Floyd County.

The long-standing rivalry — which dates back to 1970 but has only recently been reignited — will be a big draw for fans according to the opposing coaches as the two nearby schools meet again.

“It’s a rivalry that goes way back,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said. “It always brings a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and it’s a great ballgame for both schools to kick off the season. There was a great crowd in Lindale last year, and we expect the same here. It’s always a big game.”

Pepperell head coach Rick Hurst his community will do its best to fill the stands.

“It’s going to be a packed house,” Hurst said. “I know our sideline will be full. We’re going to make that trip and we know they’ll do the exact same thing. I expect it to be an electric crowd and a great way to kick off the season.”

The Dragons own the series lead against the Tigers with a 13-10 record and have won three straight matchups prior to last season’s 44-14 win by Darlington.

However, with impressive quarterbacks on both sidelines and both teams priding themselves on being physical upfront, the coaches agree it’s a well-matched contest.

“They’re obviously well-coached,” Hurst said. “They do a good job and they’re solid in every place. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. I hope we’re able to eliminate some of our mistakes and capitalize on some mistakes they make. It’s a well-matched football game. It comes down to first-game mistakes, and the one that limits those has a chance to come out on top.”

Atha said a combination of speed and physicality could pose problems for the Tigers.

“Nothing changes about Pepperell up front,” Atha said. “They’ve always been a very physical team. We saw them scrimmage a couple of times and they’re physical again this year on both sides of the ball. When you combine that with their speed we’ve got a huge challenge ahead of us.”

Atha focused on the speed of Pepperell quarterback Gage Moses who is back for his junior year. The Tigers have a high-profile quarterback of their own with Griffin Brewster playing his senior year after missing most of last season because of an injury.

Joining them on the field will be Darlington lineman and Georgia commit Tate Ratledge, and Pepperell wide receiver Payton Rhoades.

“They’re super fast,” Atha said. “They’ve got great speed all over the field. Their quarterback makes them go and he can do a number of things. He can hurt you throwing and he certainly has great wheels. He understands the offense and he’s a good decision maker. We have to stop him.”

Coming out of their two preseason scrimmages, Hurst said the defense has to be up to par for the matchup against Darlington. In their first scrimmage, the Dragons’ defense was able to handle Temple, holding the team to only 58 offensive yards in the first half. Hurst said the defense wasn’t as strong for Pepperell in the second scrimmage against Cass.

“Coming out of our scrimmages, there’s things we can build on,” Hurst said. “I was pleasantly surprised with our defense the first week, but not as well last week. I don’t think we tackled as well as we did the week before. We were 11 guys all moving at the same time in the first scrimmage. We definitely have to improve on that.”

— Jonathan Blaylock

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