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Battle of long-time friends
Riverdale faces tough, key game with Creekside

By Brian Paglia

bpaglia@news-daily.com

They talk almost everyday, or at least more than they used to when Nick Davis and Kevin Whitley were teammates at Georgia Southern.

But they haven't talked this week. They won't until Davis' Riverdale football team travels to play Whitley's Creekside team on Friday at 7:30 p.m. They won't speak until they touch the field at Creekside as their teams perform pregame drills.

The next time they talk will be after the game, when the victor has sealed its spot in the playoffs and the loser is left out.

Riverdale (5-4, 5-3 in Region 4-AAAAA) needs a victory against Creekside (6-3, 5-3) to get in the playoffs for the first time since 2005, Davis' last of two seasons with the Raiders before he left to coach Shiloh for two years. It just so happens it will require going through one of Davis' best friends.

Davis played defensive end for the Eagles from 1990 to 1993. He was an underclassman while Whitley, an All-American, played defensive back from 1988 to 1991. They shared in Georgia Southern's Division I-AA national championship in 1990. Whitley also played on the Eagles' 1989 national championship team.

Where college football made them friendly acquaintances in the jumble of a college locker room, high school football has forged a bond between them like that of deep friendship and respect.

"Once we got into coaching," Davis said, "he...became one of my best friends. Except for this week."

The match-up is compelling for Davis and Whitley's relationship alone. But it's all the more intriguing since their days at Georgia Southern so clearly impacted each's coaching philosophies.

Both Davis and Whitley are the architects of their teams' offenses, and they've chosen the beleaguering triple-option patented by former Georgia Southern coaches Erik Russell and Paul Johnson. They had watched that offense maximize second-tier recuits, so both reasoned that that offense fit high school's talent fluctuations.

"You don't have the opportunity to recruit (in high school)," Whitley said. "You never know what's coming in the door. It's a system that allows (any player) to be successful."

And the offense has brought both coaches success. Davis brought the offense to all his coaching stops since he began coaching at Burke County in 1999. Likewise with Whitley. After a year with North Spring in 2002, Whitley brought the triple-option to Creekside and turned the Seminoles peaking at 12-1 with a trip to the state quarterfinals in 2006.

"I wouldn't expect anything but the best from him," Davis said. "I know anything less than that would disappoint him."

Only once in their 16 years combined of coaching high school football have they faced each other, when Whitley's Creekside team shutout Davis' Columbia team, 28-0, in 2003. It gave Whitley bragging rights he's held ever since.

Davis and Whitley know the one who earns bragging rights this year will earn them on the performance of their defense. But that they both run the triple-option is a blessing and a curse. They know the triple-option arguably more than anybody. Their defenses don't. Their defenses are accustommed to the spread offenses they see weekly, and even some wing-T formations, but neither team has faced the triple-option in game action.

"Even though we run the same offense, our defenses have a hard time stopping it," Davis said. "They don't see it. You're going to face a couple wing-T and spread teams, but it's something they don't see for a whole year."

Davis knows Whitley has some tricks in his offense he's never mentioned to Davis in their daily conversations. Davis knows he hasn't disclosed all his tricks to Whitley.

But they won't talk about it until their players have decided which coach gets to call another game.

"It's going to be interesting to see who comes out on top," Davis said.