“It’s almost a playoff atmosphere,” declared Floyd, who is beginning his seventh season at the top Bear. “It’s fun for the communities and has created a lot of excitement for the fans and the players, but the truth of the matter is, as far as coaching goes, it’s a tough way to start your season.”
“It’s exciting for the two counties’ football fans, but its sort of been a lopsided rivalry,” commented Davis, who’s beginning his 13th year at the Wildcat helm. “With the counties being so close to one another, it’s very exciting for the fans. I just hope we can give them their money’s worth.”
Although the entire series dates back to 1917, there had been more than a 20-year lapse in games before the two teams agreed to play each other again four years ago. Bradley holds a 23-9 lead in the overall series, but Polk County won in 2009, while the Bears claimed the last two games.
With this November being a time for scheduling for the next two years, both coaches have expressed great interest in continuing to play one another.
“I have all the respect in the world for the Polk County program,” proclaimed Floyd. “They are one of the top programs in the state. They are very well coached and a hard team to prepare for because of how physical they are. You can know what they are going to do, but trying to stop them is very difficult to do.”
“Bradley’s size and speed always gives us problems,” assessed Davis. “They have more depth than we do. We have more guys having to play both ways than they do and that, plus the August heat, wears us down some.”
The heat may not be a problem tomorrow night, as Mother Nature may be bringing in a whole different challenge as rain is predicted for game time for the 7:30 kickoff at the Larry Davis Football Complex.
The possibility of inclement weather won’t deter the anticipated more-than-capacity crowd as both sets of fans are anxious to kick off the new season.
When the teams played their only meeting in Benton two years ago, the stands were packed two hours before game time as the largest crowd to ever see a football game in Polk County gathered.
“There no doubt it was the largest gate (ticket earnings) we’d ever had here,” Davis related. “I know last time it took well over an hour for some people to be able to leave and I’m afraid it won’t be much better this time with all the road construction (on U.S. 411 in front of the school). I urge people to carpool, come early and please be patient.”
More than 6,400 fans packed Bear Stadium for last year’s game that saw Bradley score twice in the first five minutes, before Polk County’s defense shut the Bears down for the remainder of the opening half.
After leading 13-6 at the intermission, the Bradley broke the game open with scores in its first three possessions of the second half for a 34-12 victory, the largest margin of in the past three games (26-16 Bears in 2010, and 20-13 Wildcats in 2009).
Bradley running back Justin Houston, who ran for a 90-yard touchdown on his first varsity carry in the 2009 game, exploded for 105 yards on just four carries in the third quarter alone last year, while finishing the night with 165 yards, including touchdown runs of 39, 1 and 66 yards.
“Houston has graduated, right?” Davis asked. “He gave us trouble in all three games we’ve played them. Their overall team speed is hard for us to deal with.”
Although Houston and two-time All-State receiver James Stovall are gone, the Bears are still under the direction of District 5-AAA Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Copeland. The senior southpaw passed for more than 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, plus ran for another 600 yards and eight more scores.
“Copeland presents a whole lot of problems for us to try to deal with,” stated Davis. “He’s got a big line to protect him (including 6-foot-6, 300-pound University of Tennessee signee Austin Sanders) and when he doesn’t throw, he’ll take off running and he’s tough to catch.”
Bradley on the other hand is concerned with trying to stop the Wildcat offense that has several new faces. “It may be new guys, but it’s still Polk County ball,” Floyd declared. “They are going to hit you in the mouth and bring the game to you. We have got to stop the run, but they are also have a very efficient passing game that can hurt you.”
The Wildcats have a whole new backfield with senior Duncan Coffey calling the signals, while 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior Zach Miller is at fullback and senior Justin Green at tailback.
“We’re not as big as we have been in the past few years, but these guys have been doing a good job for us in the preseason,” Davis remarked.
Both coaches expressed the key to victory was to not turn the ball over or commit costly penalties, opening the door for the other team to have extra chances.
“We can’t afford to hurt ourselves,” Davis related. “We are going to have to come out, play hard and make some big plays.”
“We can’t lose the game on special teams. Our offense has to not only score, but move the chains and give our defense a chance to get off the field to get a rest,” Floyd commented. “Polk does a good job of moving the ball and wearing defenses down.”
There’s no doubt the two programs have respect for each other and the fact Bradley has twice as many students as Polk doesn’t seem to weigh in the equation. When the whistle blows, both teams know they are in for a battle.
All the preparations have been made and it’s time for the teams to take the field for the 2012 season with one of the best season opening matchups anywhere around.