Rivals brace for Brick City Bowl VIII tonight
Burton Cates and Don Simon will probably give quite motivational pep talks to their respective football teams before Lee County and Southern Lee meet tonight at Lee County's Paul B. Gay Stadium. Both coaches acknowledge, though, that such speeches won't be necessary.
"Any time you're playing a rivalry game like this, the emotions will be there. That's one thing the coaching staffs don't have to worry about," said Cates, who will be coaching his fifth Brick City Bowl.
"If you can't get up for a game like this, then something's wrong with you," said Simon, who will be making his Brick City Bowl debut as Southern Lee's first-year head coach. "The game means so much to [our players] and to the town."
A new chapter, with the county rivalry also being a conference contest and the season finale, begins with Brick City Bowl VIII kicking off tonight at 7:30.
The Yellow Jackets and the Cavaliers join the gridiron tradition of most of the sports' best rivalries being those that seasons build toward.
There's Army-Navy and Ohio State-Michigan. More aptly perhaps, there are the college game's many in-state classics — the Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn), the Palmetto Bowl (Clemson-South Carolina) and the Egg Bowl (Ole Miss-Mississippi St.), to name some of the South's best.
"I think it's a good culmination to, what for us, has been a pretty good season," Simon said. "It's a good way to finish the season, and everyone likes playing a big rivalry game."
Cates says the Brick City Bowl has been big every season, but there's a little more to the game this year with it being in November, a conference game, and the Yellow Jacket Senior Night.
"It doesn't matter when we play it, it'll always be an exciting game," Cates said, "but the interest is at a higher pitch than in years past. That's for sure."
Lee County's season, with the Yellow Jackets sporting an 8-2 record and a 4-1 mark in the Cape Fear Valley, will continue past tonight into the NCHSAA State Playoffs. Southern Lee, at 3-7 and 2-3, is unlikely, even with a win tonight, to make the playoff field.
Those differences make little or no change to tonight's game, say both coaches.
"We're sure Southern Lee will play its best game," Cates said. "That's usually how these games play out.
With that said, Lee County won last August's game 49-0 at Cavalier Stadium. The Yellow Jackets have won four straight over the Cavaliers, with the closest margin being 38 points.
"I think any time you have a big rival coming up, you have the attention of your players a little better all week [at practice]," Cates said. "Our kids have practiced hard all year, but you can tell there's that little extra."
"Oh yeah, [the players] are excited to get to the game now," Simon said on Thursday afternoon. "They know the history behind all of it, and you can tell it's an exciting time."
So many of the Jackets and Cavs grew up playing football and other sports at the recreation, Pop Warner, middle school and JV levels, against or with each other, that those friendships make the rivalry better and more respectful rather than a bitter rivalry.
"In games like this," Simon said, "there are so many different motivations involved and anything can happen."
"The main thing is, it's a fun game," Cates said. "It's fun for the kids to play in front of a big crowd, and it's good for both schools."