Wednesday, April 14

Friday night lights – Opening week

Week one of the 2019 season has finally arrived, and teams around our area and across the state are taking the first steps on a season’s journey that they hope will lead to a chance at being crowned Region Champions, and for the select few an opportunity to compete to be crowned State Champion.

Each week, HartwellandBeyond, will preview the games that involve teams in our area. We will look at the game or in some cases best games in our area, in addition to listing all the games so you can know when your local team is playing.

Week 1 of the season opens with two of the great rivalries in Northeast Georgia. The Indians of Stephens County will play host to the Franklin County Lions at the Reservation, while at Herndon Stadium in Hartwell, the Bulldogs of Hart County play host to longtime rival Elbert County in a series that dates back to November 1921.

This weekend’s games in Toccoa and in Hartwell are just as intense and just as passionate as Duke vs. North Carolina or Georgia vs. Florida. The young people who will put on the pads to play in the game, those who will play a musical instrument, or lead the chants, will experience many of the same emotions as those who are involved in the big rivalries. These games are the games that make sports special and touchstones to the community.

The difference with the games this weekend is that these games are the first games for all the teams in our region. Growing up in Hartwell, whether the Hart County and Elbert County game was played at the end of the season or was held in the middle of the year, it really made little difference. It is a game that is hard fought and full of passion no matter the time of year.

Prior to the start of the 2010 season, the writer Jerry Grillo wrote about the Hart County and Elbert County rivalry in an edition of Georgia Trend Magazine. In the article, Grillo wrote of the rivalry between the schools, “There is a sense in these northeast Georgia border communities that if someone wearing an Elbert County uniform were to play checkers against someone wearing a Hart County uniform, the event would draw 15,000 people to Elberton’s famous Granite Bowl. 

But with any rivalry, the date does not make the game any less important.

It’s the 91st meeting between Hart County and Elbert County. Elbert comes into the game with Hart having won 7 of the previous 10 games, with the 10 games being decided by an average of less that 3 points on an average. When asked about Hart and Elbert, former Elbert County Coach Sid Fritts called it a “rivalry”. He added that, “been a rivalry for years and it will always be a rivalry.” “We were fortunate to have a run of players during the recent years while I was at Elbert that enabled us to have some success, just like Hart County when they had success.”

Hart County’s Rance Gillespie calls this a “special week for everyone”. “As players you’re blessed to be able to play in a game or rivalry the caliber of this game.” First year Elbert County coach Brad Waggoner is looking at the game to, “help prepare our team for the rest of the 2019 season.” He added that the Hart and Elbert game is, “one game. A game for pride in the community. These players will get to experience a game with a huge crowd, a taste of what they can see in the playoffs.”

The other rivalry game this weekend, takes place in Toccoa, where Stephens County will play host to its neighbor Franklin County. While this game may not carry the reputation of the Hart Elbert rivalry, it is no less important a game to the fans of both schools. This game Friday, is the 74th meeting between the schools that are located less than 20 miles apart. 

Stephens leads the series 40 – 10 – 1 in the games between Franklin and Stephens. When you include games involving the old Lavonia and Royston High School, the series record is 51 wins for Stephens with 22 wins for Franklin County.

Neither the Hart County v Elbert County or Stephens County v Franklin County winner will take the lead in their Region, nor will they be crowned region champion based on the score at the end of the game on Friday. To the victor goes the right to know that for the 2019 season, they were the victor and can hold their head high with pride for, until it’s time for these rivals to meet again.


In other games in the area on opening Friday:

Elbert County @ Hart County

Franklin County @ Stephens County

Madison County @ Cedar Shoals

Oconee County @ Jefferson

Banks County @ Jackson County

East Jackson @ Lumpkin County 

Apalachee @ Monroe Area

Loganville @ Morgan County

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