CONYERS - There's plenty at stake tonight when Heritage and Rockdale renew Rockdale County's football rivalry at Reid Memorial Stadium.
First and foremost, tonight's winner will claim the county bragging rights and end Salem's five-year hold on the Conyers Cup. Heritage last claimed the Cup in 2002, while Rockdale last held it in 2001.
Second, with Region 8-AAAA now playing a 10-game region schedule, it's never too early to take a peek at the standings.
Rockdale (2-0) enters tonight's game tied with Apalachee for first place, holding a half-game lead over Loganville (1-0), which plays tonight at Salem. Heritage is tied with four other teams at 1-1 - Cedar Shoals, Clarke Central, Habersham Central and Madison County.
Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge realizes the magnitude of tonight's clash.
"The next game is always a big game, but you are right, the (Conyers) Cup makes it even bigger," he said. "Also, the fact that right now we are tied with Apalachee for first in the region makes it a big game."
Heritage coach Chad Frazier agrees with Etheridge.
"This game has implications on a lot of the goals our seniors set for this team - Conyers Cup, state playoffs and region championship," Frazier said. "All of those will be affected in some way by the outcome of this game. It's the most important game on our schedule."
Last year, Rockdale rallied in the fourth quarter and then beat Heritage in overtime, securing its only win of the season 22-14. Last season, the Bulldogs were 1-9 and the Patriots were 3-7.
This year, both teams have showed promising signs in the first two weeks of the season.
Rockdale opened up with a 25-14 victory over Madison County and followed it up last week with a 19-0 win at Salem.
"Rockdale is much different in their schemes and discipline. Both have improved tremendously," Frazier said. "Coach Etheridge and his staff have really turned things around over there. They have the same athletes with a tougher mentality.
"Rockdale has improved offensively. You can tell they now have an identity and know what they want to do. They are going to try and mash you and then misdirect you, and then, if you fall asleep, they'll hit you for the home run."
Heritage beat Salem 21-7 in its opener, but stumbled last week at Habersham Central, falling 12-7 after failing to score on six trips inside the Raiders' 30.
"On film, they look a lot better than they have been in the past," Etheridge said. "Their offense is a wide open spread offense with some option added in. They do a good job with it."
Etheridge said one of the keys for his team will be slowing down Heritage quarterback Garry Peters.
For Heritage, the key will be learning from last week's loss at Habersham Central, where mistakes, penalties and a sluggish start on defense turned a potential victory into a loss.
"For us, it's always a matter of doing the little things right, taking care of the football and minimizing penalties," Frazier said. "Certainly, last week showed what can happen when we don't come ready to play."
Game note: Due to newly laid track at Reid Memorial Stadium, all Heritage fans are asked to enter on the visiting side for tonight's game.
No one will be allowed to cross over from the home side to the visitor's side.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: Heritage at Rockdale
· When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
· Where: Reid Memorial Stadium
· Series: Heritage leads 17-11
· Last meeting: Rockdale won 22-14 in OT last year