Just as it has every season since the program began in 2010, Veterans will meet Perry on the football field this Friday.
The surroundings this time around, however, will be much different for this GHSA non-region matchup, slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Veterans had played all of its home games at Herb St. John Stadium on Perry’s campus in its first six seasons, forced to cover Panthers logos around the field in an effort to make unfamiliar territory feel more like home.
With the opening of Freedom Field, the new stadium that Veterans shares with Houston County, the team that always felt as if it were trespassing now truly has a place to call its own.
“I thought it was kind of funny that we’re actually playing Perry at home and we’re not covering anything up,” Veterans head coach David Bruce said. “There’s going to be an ol’ Warhawk in one end zone, and it really feels like home now. That was like an instant home field as soon as we played there (Sept. 9 against Houston County). It’s just a whole different feeling. The kids feel it, the coaches feel it, and I think our fans feel it. We feel like we really have a home now.”
Veterans has also enjoyed some good feelings on the field this season, with wins in two of its past three games after dropping its first seven contests in 2015. The Warhawks have seemingly improved on offense every week since they were shut out by Northgate to open the season, and that emergence to go along with a tough run defense has Veterans thinking about a playoff run.
“We always work hard, and they’re seeing a little bit of fruit for their labor,” Bruce said. “I think that’s important, and it’s kind of got them excited. We’re just trying to go game by game and day by day, trying not to overthink this thing. We’re going to keep doing that and see if we can’t get where we’re trying to go.”
Said Perry head coach Carl Dixon, “They’re good. They’ve got a new quarterback this year, and they’ve changed their offense around a little bit. They’re throwing the ball well, establishing the run, and Coach Bruce does a great job defensively. They’re stout defensively, and they get after you. They’re a very stout football team.”
Perry is looking to stem a tide that has been headed in the wrong direction. The Panthers handled Rutland 35-14 in their opener and were competitive into the fourth quarter a week ago against Harris County, only to see Tigers score 21 points in the final 12 minutes to pull away.
A similar second-half collapse also doomed the Panthers against Peach County, as the Trojans outscored them 24-6 after the break, but Perry is blessed with skill position talent who opponents have to respect.
“They’re explosive, and it makes me nervous,” Bruce said. “They’ve got guys that can break it at any time. You can be playing steady defense, then they’ll break one on you and two quarters of good defense goes right down the tubes. You just have to be real consistent and not give up that huge play.”
“We’ve got to the finish the game and put four quarters together,” Dixon said. “Against Rutland we played three quarters and won, and against Peach County I think we played a half. Last week against Harris County, I thought we played three-and-a-half quarters. We’ve got to learn to finish, and that’s typical of teams that haven’t won very much.”
The winner of this contest will take a 4-3 lead in the series. Veterans has won three straight after losing the first three matchups.