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Football: Rivalry games highlight start of region schedule

Lambert head coach Louis Daniel noticed some extra focus from his players at practice this week.

He knows it’s because of the opponent.

31-6. That was the score against South Forsyth last season in the Region 6-6A title tilt to finish the regular season. It was a wakeup call for the Longhorns, who entered the contest having won 14 consecutive region contests dating back to the previous year. Still, they finished runner-up to Alpharetta the season before due to two early losses, so the Longhorns won those 14-straight league contests without a region title.

This may not be just any rivalry game for Lambert tonight. It might be everything.

“You don’t want to put all of your emotions into one game,” Daniel said. “You’ve got to get back up and compete four more weeks after this one if you want a region title. But this game means a lot to the players, it means a lot to the staff here. Heck, it means a lot to the kids in class. South is right down the road and all of these kids have played against or with each other for years. It’s obviously a big deal.”

It is a big deal, that Lambert gets to open its region schedule against South instead of waiting until the final game again to get the bad taste out of its mouth.

Every team in the county will have a similar opportunity to earn some bragging rights this week. When the new region was made to have six teams—five from Forsyth County—athletic directors in the region saw an opportunity to have a rivalry week on the schedule.

What better way than to open the new Forsyth-centric second half of the season with pageantry and passion around the county? Sure, many of the county schools in Forsyth have played two or three marquee games in non-region play, but none of that compares or matters anymore.

“You really don’t know much about anyone right now. We’re a few plays away from being a 5-0 football team, but I’m kind of glad we’re not,” Daniel said. “We focused on just measuring ourselves with competition, and now we’re doing it again but it matters so much more. We’re glad we’re healthy, because the South game means a great deal.”

At West Forsyth, the rivalry matchup will feel a bit like an experiment on the surface. The one school in the new region outside of Forsyth borders, Milton, is coming off not just any rivalry game; it may be the biggest in the state. Last week the Eagles gave Roswell a fit, falling just 17-0 against a team with national pollsters paying attention.

This week might feel like an emotional hangover for Milton, but the north Fulton school hopes to establish a new rivalry with its closest travel companion from Forsyth county in the Wolverines. There was intention with the matchup, according to Milton athletic director Gary Sylvestri.

Sylvestri not only lives in West district, but he coached alongside West head coach Adam Clack, under former head coach Frank Hepler, before moving to an administrative position at Milton.

“There was a joke when we set up those games: where’s the rivalry there?” Sylvestri said. “I think it’s implied that that’s going to be a big game, hopefully every year. I know them well and they’re travel partners with us.”

In Coal Mountain, a rivalry will be revived between Forsyth Central and North Forsyth—it couldn’t come at a better time.

Both programs are finding their way under new head coaches, and both passed the test of winning games they should have won in the non-region schedule. North looks dangerous, scoring at a high clip under Robert Craft; Central has mastered its personnel so far, bringing a dominating running game and thumpers on defense.

Two programs that look drastically different, but probably feel the same, will get to measure themselves in an old-school county setting. The two teams have not faced off since 2013, but have played 14 times since the rivalry began in 1996.

“I know our kids are fired up,” Craft said. “Everything we’ve done so far is preparation for this game, and for us to get to kick it off in a big rivalry game is really exciting. I think how our region sets up to have a big weekend like this is outstanding.”