This time, they’ll be playing for keeps.
Less than 20 miles separate two of Middle Georgia’s elite high school football programs, Northside and Peach County. Both teams have captured three state titles a piece and, most years, find themselves a factor in the postseason. That level of expectation inside and outside the programs sprouts a high level of intensity, even in recent years with competition between the teams being limited to preseason scrimmages on the varsity level.
That changes a bit on Saturday when Northside and Peach County cap off the Macon Touchdown Club Middle Georgia Kick-off Classic at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium. The game, tentatively set to kick off at 7:30 p.m., will follow the day’s other contest at 5 p.m., Dublin against Tattnall Square.
Both Dublin and Tattnall will be looking to improve to 2-0. A week after ripping Our Lady of Mercy in a 53-14 win, the Trojans are relishing the chance to take on a larger program such as Dublin. The Fighting Irish have four state and 20 region titles to their credit, having competed in the GHSA ranks since 1948. Tattnall is an infant as far as the GHSA goes, having begun playing in the league in 2014.
“It’s definitely exciting. It’s an awesome opportunity to play in a stadium like this. It’ll be exciting to have so many people here to watch,” Tattnall tight end Gavin Whitfield said. “To play a team like Dublin that’s bigger and faster, it’s exciting.”
Many players for both Northside and Peach County were barely walking around the last time the Trojans and Eagles played in the regular season — 2005. The emotion of a game between Northside and Peach may be foreign the players.
The coaches? Not so much.
Both Northside’s Kevin Kinsler and Peach’s Chad Campbell spent time as assistant coaches with their respective programs through the years to know what it’s like when the two tee up against one another with a win/loss record on the line. While sometimes a scrimmage can be approached as a way to evaluate a team’s back-ups and a glorified practice, Saturday evening promises to be different.
“There’s definitely a different feel from when we’ve played each other in the scrimmage. Any time that Northside and Peach get together, it’s very intense,” Kinsler said. “We always fill the stadium up, and it’s the great community event, and everyone enjoys the competition. The intensity will still be there, and be a great atmosphere. I’m not sure it’ll be a lot different as far as the level of competition.”
In fact, Peach may as well be holding a mirror in front of itself when approaching a team like Northside.
“The only thing now is that it’s for real. I don’t think anything has changed. It’s a win or loss and not just a tune up,” Campbell said. “Our kids know their kids and are very similar. Their kids play as hard as they do, and ours are about the same.”
Still, there’s at least one difference between Northside and Peach, at least before Saturday: it’s game experience this year. While it’ll be the season opener for the Trojans, the Eagles shook some proverbial dust off last week in a 38-14 pasting of Centennial.
If nothing else, the win against Centennial meant that after a summer of workouts, Northside could fully focus on Saturday’s looming match up.
“We had drilled into them that we’re not good enough right now to look past everybody. We have to focus on who we are playing and playing really hard until we are better as a team,” Kinsler said. “Our kids, because they have played Peach County, there is no doubt they will be excited.”