Southeast Bulloch (0-0) at Portal (0-0)
7:30 p.m., Friday
PORTAL — When Southeast Bulloch and Portal strap on the pads and head out under the lights Friday night, it will be a little bit more than just the opening game of each team’s season.
For a pair of cross-county rivals, there are always bragging rights at stake.
The schools played in every season from 1982-93 before putting the rivalry on hiatus from 1994-2005. Southeast Bulloch took a pair of wins in 2006 and 2007 and also took the next meeting in the 2010 season opener. SEB leads the overall series with a record of 10-5-1.
Last season, Portal turned the tables as the Panthers traveled to Brooklet and opened the season with a 9-0 win on opening night.
Friday night, a good start and another year of bragging rights are on the line once again.
“It’s always fun to line up against a school that is an old rival and that is so close to our own town,” said Portal coach David NeSmith. “On one hand, it’s not a region game, so there’s still the opportunity to focus on improving. But on the other hand, you always want to be able to stick it to a rival.”
With all players on both sides residing in Bulloch County, it’s only natural that many are familiar with each other. Some players are friends that hang out during the summer or on weekends. Others are former teammates turned rivals after a move just a few miles down the road.
The competition remains a friendly one, but many friendships will have to be put on hold for a few hours this week.
“I know that a lot of our guys talk back and forth with players over at Portal,” said SEB coach Pat Collins. “I know that there are some friendships, but that only makes us want to beat them even more. It’s like fighting with your brother.”
In fact, there will be a family reunion of sorts taking place on the sidelines.
Tanner Brown will line up at center for Portal while his cousin, Tyler Brown, patrols the field on special teams for the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s not something that I’ll be thinking about during the game,” said Tanner Brown about competing against family. “But I’m sure that whoever wins will make the other one hear about it. This is one that I really want to win. I’m a senior and this is the last chance I’ll get to beat SEB.”
Even the coaching staffs have some shared bonds.
Portal assistant coaches Josh Thompson and Brian Lawson have both coached for the Jackets – Thompson on the SEB defensive line and Lawson as a middle school assistant.
Most notably, Collins served as head coach of the Panthers in 2004 and 2005, taking Portal to the state playoffs in both seasons.
“It’s about the players and not about me,” said Collins. “But it is fun to go back and coach in a place where you used to be. It’s enjoyable for me since it’s been a long enough time that I won’t have to coach against any former players.”
Notching the latest win in the rivalry would be a plus for either team, but more important is that the game serves as much-needed momentum for both teams.
SEB has a veteran roster, but none of the current Jackets have ever won more than two games in a season. Portal found plenty of success after its win over SEB last season, but enters 2012 with a team full of freshmen and sophomores that need to build confidence.
“This game is the most important one for us,” said Collins. “Not because it’s a rivalry game or because Portal beat us last year, but because it’s the next game on the calendar. We just want to win each game as it comes. If that happens to be a rivalry game, that will just be a bonus for us.”
Mike Anthony my be reached at (912) 489-9404.