For decades, the rivalries between Lakeview and Chattanooga Valley and Lakeview and Rossville were some of the fiercest ones in all of northwest Georgia in all sports, but especially when it came to Friday nights in the fall.

Those rivalries didn't change when Lakeview became Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and the Warriors moved from Cross Street to their current location on Battlefield Parkway in the early 1970's, and the intensity of the rivalry remained when Chattanooga Valley and Rossville High Schools merged to form Ridgeland in 1989.

The Warriors and the Panthers met in Ridgeland's inaugural game that season (a 10-6 Panther win) and the series was played year in and year out up through the 2009 campaign.

But reclassification and other factors put a halt to the regular season series and for more than a decade, the two longtime foes failed to meet on the gridiron...until Friday night.

It may have only been a scrimmage to close out both teams' spring practices, but the Battle of Highway 2-A was renewed at Bowers and Painter Field as two teams looking to rebound from tough 2020 campaigns squared off and, in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute, Ridgeland emerged with an 18-12 victory.

A scoreless first quarter was highlighted by big defensive plays from both sides.

LFO put up a goalline stand to halt a Ridgeland drive at the 1-yard line after the Panthers had forced and recovered a fumble deep in Warrior territory. The Warriors also thwarted another Ridgeland possession as Gabe Helton made a nice, juggling interception, only to see LFO's ensuing drive end with a sack by Ridgeland's Ashton Turner.

Ridgeland opened the scoring with 9:34 left in the second quarter as Chase Watkins took a pitch from quarterback Judd Anderson and went nine yards to paydirt. However, LFO would respond as Trevon Gott took a screen pass from Keenan Walker and raced 60 yards for the tying score with 6:59 left before halftime.

Bryce Goins came up with a pair of first-half sacks for the Warriors, while Watkins was credited with one for the Panthers.

The second half began with LFO recovering a Ridgeland fumble less than a minute into the third period, only to see Turner come up with another sack to end the Warriors' scoring chance. LFO would later get a 28-yard gain by Gott to move the ball to the Ridgeland 8, but four straight goal-to-go plays netted exactly one yard as the Panthers defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs.

Both teams would cough up the ball on consecutive plays later in the period, but Ridgeland's next possession would spill over into the early part of the fourth quarter. Panther newcomer Demetree Bates capped the march with a great individual effort on a 14-yard scoring run, bouncing off three different hits before getting into the endzone with 11:24 left to play.

With the young kids playing exclusively in the final stanza, LFO quarterback Josh Cain corralled a high snap from center, tucked the ball away and ran it in from 29 yards out to make it 12-12 with 4:19 to go.

However, it was enough time for the Ridgeland offense, who moved crisply downfield. With the time ticking down on the clock, a bobbled snap almost spelled disaster. But the Panthers were able to pick up the loose pigskin and get it to Bates, who came buzzing around the right end for the final five yards that ultimately tipped the scoreboard in favor of the home team.

"What I liked most of all is that our guys played as a group," Ridgeland head coach Kip Klein explained. "This is a special bunch. They're family. They want to work together, in the weight room and out here on the field. It's been a pleasure to be with them these last two weeks. There hasn't been any bickering. They've all got a purpose and a desire to get back to Ridgeland football."

Klein said there was plenty of things his team would be focusing on during the summer, including the work in the trenches.

"I'm an old offensive lineman, so we have to get movement (up front), reposition the (opposing) defensive line and reset it," he added. "We've got some great backs, but we have to be able to get that movement. All that stuff we've been doing in the weight room and in the offseason, we have to see it come to fruition out here on the field.

"The (linemen) have to get to that second level and let us get our backs, like Bates, Watkins and Turner out into space. We just have to have the conditioning to go four quarters."

His counterpart, LFO head coach Bo Campbell, said he was just happy to see his team get to be back on the field.

"I really feel we can get a lot of stuff done in nine practices and work on our techniques," he began "I know some coaches may not like (spring practice) because they have a lot of guys in different sports, but to me, those nine practices help us build our depth and get guys reps. Plus, it's great to come out here and play football and try to get back to normal.

"We love getting to see our guys again and having fun playing football. Last year was kind of disappointing with everything going on and we had to cancel our last game because of contact tracing, so it just awesome to get back out here, play the game, have fun and compete."

Campbell added that two main areas his team were focusing on were accountability and leadership.

"It was kind of hard to have accountability last year with COVID and everything," he said. "But we're seeing a lot of good leadership from our upcoming seniors and a lot of buying-in with the other kids. We saw it tonight and it's exciting."

With both teams electing to play a spring scrimmage, each one will be allowed just one preseason scrimmage this fall. Acclimation will begin on July 26 and after five days of acclimation, preseason practice can officially begin on August 2.

Ridgeland will be the first-ever opponent of the East Forsyth Broncos when they make the trip on August 20. Meanwhile, LFO will open its regular season that same night at home against Catoosa County rival Heritage.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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