Conference play begins this week in the Catawba Valley 2-A, with two of the leagues’ biggest rivals set to square off Friday. Newton-Conover (4-0) travels to Maiden (3-1), and both teams look to start league play on stable ground.
“It starts this week for everybody, so if you win, you’re tied for first place, which is how you want to start,” Red Devils head coach Nick Bazzle said. “We’re getting one of the big guns first this year.”
But fans of both teams know this matchup is more than just the kickoff of this year’s conference schedule; it’s also about bragging rights.
“Every conference game is important,” Bazzle said. “This one just carries a little more weight, because it’s Maiden.”
Friday’s game is 41st meeting in this historic rivalry and the first time in three years it is at Maiden.
Newton-Conover beat the Blue Devils in their previous five matchups, but Bazzle said he isn’t underestimating this year’s Maiden squad.
“They’re a different Maiden team than we’ve seen the last few years,” he said. “They’re back to playing ‘Maiden football.’”
The Blue Devils are coming off a 54-42 win last week over St. Stephens and are looking to ride that wave of momentum into Friday’s game.
“We built a lot of momentum in the St. Stephens win,” Maiden head coach Brian Brown said. “We have to play well in order to get conference play off to a good start.”
Blue Devils quarterback Matt Johnson is the driving force of that momentum, with coach Bazzle praising the junior for his athleticism.
“He’s two dimensional, he can keep on the ground and hurt you or he can throw it to beat a defense,” Bazzle said. “He’s a big, strong kid — very physical. If he’s going, they’re going.”
Johnson suffered a concussion three weeks ago against Lincolnton and Brown knows keeping his team healthy will be a big key for success.
“We just need to play our game and take care of ourselves,” Brown said.
The Red Devils want offensive lineman Mikey Comer back in the lineup for the big game. Comer missed last week’s 48-14 win over Fred T. Foard with a foot injury, and he is a game-time decision for Newton-Conover.
EAST BURKE AT BUNKER HILL
All is well on the gridiron for Bunker Hill so far this season, and the Bears looking to keep the momentum going as conference play starts Friday. Bunker Hill (4-0) will host East Burke (0-4) on “Black Friday.”
“This is a big night for us as a team, as well as a school,” Bears head coach Travis Conner said. “The students and faculty are really excited with what we have done so far this year, and we wanted to do something to show our appreciation of their support.”
Conner said 500 black T-shirts were sold in the community supporting the Bears and fans who purchased the shirts can get into the game for free by wearing them.
“We’re expecting a large crowd — all of them wearing black ,” Conner said.
Bunker Hill’s biggest key to success this season is staying healthy as a team.
“We’ve had a few injuries, but it’s been in places where we’ve had depth,” Conner said.
Conner and the Bears, however, aren’t taking East Burke too lightly, despite the Cavaliers’ 0-4 record.
“We have to play a good game,” Conner said. “East Burke is a good football team from what I’ve seen, and they have played some good teams this season.”
The Cavaliers previous four opponents this season have a combined record of 17-2 in 2010.
Conner said the biggest key to a win on “Black Friday” is for the Bears to play smart, don’t commit turnovers and keep the silly penalties to a minimum.
Bunker Hill’s ground game has led the team so far this season, with running back Reggie Davis getting a hefty workload. The junior carried the ball 39 times two weeks ago in the 34-13 win over Fred T. Foard.
“We’ve worked on spreading the wealth a little more,” Conner said of the Bears, who are coming off of a bye week. “We have a few more athletes and some pretty good runners, and not to take anything away from Reggie, we just need to spread the ball around more.”