By Jonathan Deal
It’s not the oldest rivalry in Alabama high school football, but it has become one of the most heated in recent years. When Athens and East Limestone’s football teams face off tonight, you can throw out the records.
Not that you would need to. The teams enter tonight’s matchup with similar records and are both coming off out of region victories a week ago.
“This week takes care of itself,” said Creasy. “Our focus level is good. No problem motivating them this week.”
Athens seniors certainly need no motivation after losing the last three times to their bitter rival. But something is different about this Athens team. Despite a couple of region losses to Muscle Shoals and Hartselle, the Golden Eagles defense is as salty as ever.
“We would have liked to have been a little more consistent,” said Creasy. “We’ve made some good things happen, but not enough touchdowns. It’s great having the ability to score. To get those field goals, that’s a big positive. We’re trying to become more consistent in the red zone.”
The leader of that Athens’ defense is Johnnie Anderson, a starter since the day he arrived on campus. For Anderson, this will be the senior’s last chance to beat East Limestone.
“We’ve got to win. We’re hungry to win it,” said Anderson earlier this year. “Everybody in town is wondering, ‘Are you going to beat East this year?’
The Indians enter tonight’s game off the heals of their best offensive outing in nearly two years. The 59-42 win over James Clemens was East Limestone’s second consecutive victory after beginning the year 0-3.
Behind a more multiple offense featuring some spread packages, the Indians have averaged 31 points per game this season, buoyed by the return to the football field of senior Jordan Gandy.
Gandy is new to the rivalry. The senior previously only competed against Athens in basketball and watched from the stands as the Indians won the last three games on the gridiron.
“Everybody talks about it,” said East Limestone senior Jordon Gandy in an August interview. “Everybody around school doesn’t care if you don’t win a game as long as you beat Athens. It’s a big rivalry. Probably one of the biggest ones in the state.”
In five games this season, Gandy has scored every way possible. The wide receiver/safety has averaged 27 yards per rush on five rush attempt and 16 yards per catch on 27 catches with six total touchdowns. He has a 95-yard kickoff return touchdown and a 96-yard interception return for a score.
“They run two entirely different offenses,” said Creasy. “They can be a power-off tackle team and pound it and they have Jordan Gandy, who can score every time he touches the ball.”
Nobody knows more about the rivalry than East Limestone head coach Jeff Pugh, who played at Athens from 1974-77. Pugh and Creasy agreed to play one another for the first time in 2006. It was the first ever meeting between the teams and the first time Athens had played a Limestone County school since the 1950s
“When we first started playing them, I don’t think they thought we had a chance to beat Athens, being a county school,” said Pugh earlier this year. “The first game we had here, there were 12,000 people here. I’ve never seen it like that. The away side was full two hours before the game.”
Athens won that inaugural meeting between the teams 44-15, but East Limestone proved this would not be a one-sided rivalry when they pulled out a 7-6 victory with a blocked extra point the following year.
Athens took the next two in the series before losing to East by an average of just six points in the last three games.