Thursday May 26th, 2016 2:54PM

Battle of Oakwood kicks off 2013 football season Friday (Video)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
OAKWOOD -- Coaches know better than to get too carried away with one game -- but even Jason Roquemore and Tony Lotti admit that this one is immense.

"It's a big deal and a great opportunity for both communities. It's a good opportunity for people to come out and see what both programs are about now because we're both new head coaches, and we expect a big crowd and a good night for football," said Lotti, who will lead West Hall into his second "Battle of Oakwood" on Friday night at Spartan stadium in a game broadcast live on 102.9 FM WDUN.

The contest between cross-town rivals has been played every season since 1994, with the Spartans holding an 11-7-1 advantage -- a slim advantage that's even slimmer in the average score, with West Hall averaging 24.4 points and Johnson 17.8.

Earlier this week, Access North sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with members of both programs to talk about the Battle of Oakwood and what it means to each school. Click "play" below to watch a video presentation about the rivalry.

The Battle of Oakwood from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

That fact that the showdown is now the season opener only adds to a charged atmosphere.

"I think it's a great way to kick off the season," said Roquemore, whose Knights won last season's game 19-13 in his first Battle of Oakwood. "It gives you a lot of incentive in the offseason. The rivalry, the magnitude of it, all those incentives that help through offseason.

"Still we're playing the game of football, and the team that executes the best will be most successful."

Look no further than last season for an example, as the two rivals combined to produce five turnovers in a contest running high with emotion and early season miscues.

"We're trying to do our best to protect the football and not turn it over," Lotti said. "We did that a lot in this game last year. We just want to make sure our discipline level is where it needs to be and make sure we're focused. That's been an issue in the past. But we're excited. We feel like our team has grown a lot this past year and we have made strides."

West Hall, which finished 3-7 last season, would love to get started on the right foot and use the rivalry as a springboard -- much like Johnson did in 2012 en route to a 6-4 record that wiped away memories of a winless 2011.

"Coming out and winning the first rival game set the course for whole year, coming off previous year, which wasn't great," Johnson senior Caleb Herrin said. "It changed the whole atmosphere in the program and within community and inspired us to keep going."

Roquemore is certainly expecting a fired up foe when his Knights take the field.

"People don't give them enough credit. They've done a heck of a job, and they were in a lot of close games last year," Roquemore said. "Our situations are very similar: Both of us are trying to build programs, not teams. And I think they're very talented. I think they will have a much better year this year, and I wish them the best. We respect them and look forward to playing them.

"But we do want to win, just like they want to win."

Indeed, both teams will be aching for the chance at yearly bragging rights.

"It means everything; we've been playing for who knows how long now," West Hall senior Eric Camacho said. "Since I've been playing, we've won one and they've beat us twice. We need some payback."

To get it, West Hall knows it will have to contain Johnson's option attack that rushed for 297 yards in last season's contest. And while the Knights feature several new faces in 2013, they do return senior running back Luis Hernandez, whose 61-yard touchdown run in last year's game provided the winning margin.

"They return a player at running back who hurt us last year and helped seal it with a big run," Lotti said. "They've also got a new quarterback that is very athletic. But, like every game, the big deal will be up front. Who handles that will play big part in who wins this one."

Roquemore agrees and his spent much of the offseason building depth along his lines of scrimmage. And the Knights know they will be tested early and often by a Spartans offense that returns nine starters, including quarterback Zach English, who passed for 136 yards in last year's battle.

"You work all summer, but there's no preparation like the real thing," Roquemore said. "We want to be clean, sharp, crisp, but (starting strong) is a concern. Hopefully we'll take care of ball and not commit any stupid penalties."

If history is any guide, fans should prep for a battle to the wire. The last five contests between the Knights and Spartans featured a deciding margin of 5.4 points on average, and, since a five-game win streak from West Hall (1998-2002), no team has won more than two in a row in the rivalry.

"It's a lot of fun," Lotti said. "At this point it's really more about playing somebody in a 0different colored jersey. Our scrimmage got canceled, so our kids are just excited about let's go ahead and get this thing started."


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: East Hall Stadium, Rabbittown
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- JOHNSON(0-0, playing non-region schedule): The Knights finished 6-4 in 2012.
-- WEST HALL (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): The Spartans finished 3-7 in 2012.
-- HISTORY: Johnson won the last meeting 19-13 in 2012. West Hall leads the series 11-7-1.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: East Hall Stadium, Rabbittown
-- DAWSON (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): The Tigers finished 6-5 in 2012.
-- EAST HALL (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): The Vikings finished 5-5 in 2012.
-- HISTORY: Dawson County won the last meeting, 42-0 in 2012. The Tigers lead the series 6-1.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawassee
-- HAYESVILLE (0-0): The Yellow Jackets finished 4-7 in 2012.
-- TOWNS (0-0, playing non region schedule): The Indians finished 3-7 in 2012
-- HISTORY: Hayesville won the last meeting 20-12 in 2012. Hayesville leads the series 18-1.


-- WHEN: 5:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
-- NORTH GWINNETT (0-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAAA): The Bulldogs finished 11-2 in 2012, reaching the state quarterfinals.
-- CAMDEN (0-0, 0-0 Region 1-AAAAAA): The Wildcats finished 11-2 in 2012, reaching the state quarterfinals.
-- HISTORY: Camden won the only previous meeting, 35-0 in the 2009 Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
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