With Woodstock (2-5, 2-2) and Etowah (4-3, 3-1) separated by less than 2 miles, the battle for supremacy in Towne Lake — a series the Eagles lead 7-5 — has always had a way of exciting the two schools like no other game on their schedules.
That dynamic is something Woodstock coach Brent Budde and his Etowah counterpart, Dave Svehla, are well aware of.
“There has definitely been a buzz around the school this week,” said Budde, a third-year head coach who has been part of the rivalry since he first came to Woodstock as an assistant for his father, Chuck, in 1998. “Everyone, from the students to the teachers to the administration, has had a bit more energy this week. I’m sure that students from both schools are excited, and that’s why this rivalry is so exciting.”
Though Svehla is only in his first year as Etowah’s coach, he said the importance of the rivalry has not been lost on him over the past week.
“I’ve had kids come up in class that don’t always go to the football games saying they are going to attend this one. Teachers and faculty members as well,” Svehla said. “The week before a rivalry game, things are a little different just because of all the extra stuff that comes with it. All of the stuff that comes with this game is what we have been telling our kids all week to not pay attention to. We want them to be focused.”
While Budde and Svehla both acknowledged the magnitude of winning tonight’s rivalry game, both coaches were more concerned with the fact that the winner of tonight’s contest will take a big step toward the state playoffs.
“I’ve been telling our players all week. This is a game that we have to win because we want to be in the playoffs,” Budde said. “We have to get another team behind us in the region to get into the playoffs. That’s why (tonight’s) game is so important.”
A loss would drop Woodstock to 2-3 in region play and eliminate it from playoff contention.
For Etowah the game holds just as much importance as the next two weeks — which the Eagles must face undefeated Lassiter and last year’s Class AAAAA runner-up, Walton.
If Etowah loses to Woodstock tonight, it would have to beat either Lassiter or Walton to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
For Svehla, the key to defeating the Wolverines will be executing tackles on first contact, something he felt the Eagles failed to do last week in their 26-9 win over Cherokee.
“We tackled very poorly against Cherokee,” Svehla said. “We cannot repeat that, because, if we do, we are going to get beat. (Woodstock’s) offense has been improving, so we can’t afford to not tackle well against them.”
Meanwhile, Budde believes that, if Woodstock can slow the Eagles’ running game and force them to take to the air, then the Wolverines would have a good chance of winning.
“I think we have to make them one-dimensional,” Budde said of Etowah’s offense, which, for the last three weeks, has been led by third-string quarterback Robbie Knox. “We can’t let them run the ball down the field on us. We need to put the ball in their quarterback’s hands and make them throw. If we can do that, we will have them in a position that we feel more comfortable in.”
Though Budde still remembers the sting of the 45-0 loss Woodstock suffered at the hands of Etowah last year, dismissed the notion that Woodstock was out for revenge.
“Last year is last year,” Budde said. “If we win by 45 points, or just by one point, (tonight), it would be a great feeling.”