By Jeffery Armstrong
For the fifth straight season, the first Friday night of high school football in Clayton County kicks off with the North Clayton Eagles challenging the Riverdale Raiders in a renewal of their intense rivalry.
The game is slated for tonight at Tara Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
Riverdale is carrying a four-game winning streak over North Clayton in this series, but things may change this season. The Eagles won both their scrimmage games this year (against Westlake and Douglass) and they are pretty healthy going into the season. Plus, the Raiders have graduated a lot of seniors over the last two years while North Clayton fields its most experienced team in the last few years.
"I have to admit that we looked good in our two scrimmage games. I was pretty impressed with the defense and on offense, we capitalized on drives," Eagles head coach Don Shockley said. "Sure, these were just scrimmage games, but our kids showed they can make plays."
Shockley said the defense, which had five interceptions against Douglass, will be the key to beating Riverdale and other foes this year. He is very impressed with defensive players Winston Bowens and Jeremy Elder, among others.
"If the defense plays the way they did in our scrimmages, we should have a very good season," Shockley said. "We have to focus on not making mistakes and be prepared for whatever Riverdale throws at us."
First-year Riverdale head football coach Nick Davis is new to the Riverdale-North Clayton rivalry and is quick to undermine its importance.
"Actually, every game we play is a rival game. We're trying to win every game we play this year," Davis said. "Every game we play is real important, not just this game."
After Riverdale's two scrimmage games, Davis said he wants his team to control the ball better on offense and tackle better on defense. He and his coaching staff have stressed to the Raiders that despite the four-game winning streak, they cannot take the Eagles lightly.
"Their numbers may not be as big as ours, but they have an experienced team coming back," said Davis. "We have to play mistake-free football or we could lose this game."