BRISTOL, Va. – Tennessee High might appear to have the advantage in terms of numbers and facilities heading into the 107th renewal of the V-T Game on Friday at Gene Malcolm Stadium.
Just don’t look for Virginia High to make excuses.
“I think the biggest thing is the focus has to be on us. I think we understand what a challenge it is, what a challenge historically it has been in this rivalry,” Virginia High head coach Michael Crist said. “It is a challenge first and foremost because they are good. They are playing with a little chip on their shoulder that maybe I haven’t seen in the last four or five years. They are talented.
“The reality is that every week is the same, but I think this week in particular it is about focusing on us. We have improved each week. We are young, we are inexperienced, but we are not going to use that as an excuse. We have got to get better each week and I think the focus has literally just been on us improving through the week to try to get better once we get into that regional play and district play.”
First up is the V-T Classic, a rivalry that kicked off with three games apiece in 1911 and ‘12, with the Bearcats winning four of the six at Fairmount Park at King College. Tennessee High has the overall advantage with a mark of 73-29-4.
Virginia High last won in 2011, and Tennessee High head coach Mike Mays knows what the Vikings must do to avoid that happening in this one.
“We can’t turn the ball over and we have got to get stops on defense. I feel like if we can get the ball in our guys’ hands that can make plays, we will be successful, but if we don’t tackle well and we turn the ball over, they have got a chance to beat us and we know that,” said Mays, who will be involved in his 21st game in the rivalry. “They beat us in 2011. We didn’t run the ball well there, we had some turnovers and they big-played us a couple of times.
“That is the ingredients to get you beat. If you don’t tackle and eliminate the big play and turn the ball over you are going to get beat. We don’t want to do that.”
Virginia High (0-2) narrowly missed out on a win last Friday when a motion penalty in the final minute nullified a 44-yard touchdown run by Stevie Thomas, allowing John Battle to escape the Bearcats 12-7. Crist, who agreed with the call, sees improvement being made on a weekly basis.
The effort has been good. It has been really small details, that is kind of what got us Friday,” Crist said. “I see a huge improvement from our scrimmages to the benefit game to week one to week two, particularly defensively.
“Offensively I felt like last week we made a big stride so we are getting there. It hasn’t shown up in terms of wins, but I feel like we are improving each week.”
Mays has seen that as well from watching the Bearcats’ two games on film.
“From the week one game to their week two game, they looked a lot better, especially on the line of scrimmage,” May said. “We know we are going to get their best shot, it is going to be an emotional game and our kids are ready to play.”
Mays has seen plenty of improvement from his Vikings, who rebounded from a loss at Dobyns-Bennett to blank Daniel Boone 35-0, led by two touchdowns apiece from Jaden Keller and Cole McBrayer, along with a solid defensive effort that held the Trailblazers to 106 yards.
“I thought we executed on both sides of the football. The coaches had an excellent game plan on either side, Mays said. “I can’t brag enough about those guys and the game plan they put in. I really felt like our kids knew exactly what to do on every play on both sides of the football so hats off to those guys.
“Boone was supposed to be real physical up front and I feel like we were just as physical or more and that was a big step we took forth from the first week. I felt like D-B was more physical than us and we were able to step forward and be more physical than (Boone).”
Virginia High knows the challenges ahead against the Vikings, who have shown the ability to run and throw the football, while shutting out their last opponent on defense.
I think you have to be able to move the ball on them and they are pretty good defensively,” Crist said. “They shut out Boone last week so we have got to find a way to be able to move the ball and be productive in that aspect and you can’t give them anything cheap.
“I think the years we have been competitive for a half or three quarters it is has typically been one key play, a turnover or something like that has hurt us. You can’t give them anything for sure.”
Expect a large crowd on Friday as bragging rights is up for grabs in Bristol.
They are across the street. They hear it year in and year out,” Mays said. “We go to church together on Sundays and they hear it there. To us it is two different high schools in Bristol and we want to be the high school in Bristol.
“Coach Crist does a great job over there, but we want to beat them.”
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