Bulldogs, Patriots kick off football season tonight

For the first time since September, 2009, the Rockdale football team will go into its game with Heritage attempting to start a winning streak in the series.

The football season officially kicks off tonight at Evans Memorial Stadium with the two old rivals meeting for the 35th time.

A year ago, it would’ve been hard to find anyone predicting a Rockdale victory when the teams also met at Evans. But a 9-7 win, the Bulldogs’ first triumph at Evans since 2000, snapped a four-game losing streak in the series during which Heritage outscored their county rival 105-25. Now, the upstart Bulldogs will try and make it two straight.

Rockdale is coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2013, the program’s first winning season since the 2009 state semifinalist team won 10 games. It’s also the third season for head coach Venson Elder, who has taken a team to the state playoffs (2012) and another that a year ago fell just short.

Heritage is no stranger to the postseason and the Conyers school will try and play past game 10 for a program-record fifth consecutive season. The Patriots will be under new leadership as Wendell Early takes over for Mike Parris, who lasted one season and then took the head coaching job at Loganville High School.

“It’s an honor being here as the head football coach in any situation, but the Rockdale game is a big rivalry game and it does carry with it a certain level of intensity and emotion,” said Early, who last coached at South Forsyth in 2009. “Believe me, we see the importance of this game, but we certainly don’t want it to carry any more pressure than any other game. Our job as coaches is to prepare our players to play a game, not the game.”

Heritage leads the all-time series, which began in 1978, 21-13. Last year’s defensive struggle was the first time in the rivalry’s history that both teams has scored single-digit points since Heritage’s 7-0 victory in 2001.

“We’re looking for a very physical, very intense game,” said Early.