Sparta and Cookeville square off Friday
Posted By Sparta Live | August 30, 2012 12:00 am
It’s time for one of the state’s longest played rivalries.
Some call it the Battle of Highway 111, but all that really needs to be said is Sparta versus Cookeville.
The two towns have been squaring off on the gridiron for 100 years and that figure is no exaggeration. When it comes to sports, the two teams have been rivals for every one of those years.
Each team has had its share of success during the 100 years they have been squaring off, but Cookeville has dominated the rivalry for the past 16 years. In fact, the Warriors will be trying to end their 16-year drought against the Cavaliers when the two teams meet Friday night in Cookeville.
Prior to the 16 straight won by Cookeville, the Warriors had won five of eight and the all-time series was close with Cookeville holding the 30-27 advantage and three games had ended in ties. Those account for the games since 1929 when records have been completed. During those 83 years, the two have met 76 times.
As if the rivalry needed anymore fire added to it, it may have gotten a little more intense this year.
First year Warrior head coach, Matthan Houser, has been an assistant with the Cavaliers for the last four seasons. He worked alongside first year Cavalier head coach, Scott Cook, as an assistant during that time. Cook took over for Jerry Joslin, who had been the coach for the Cavaliers in 13 of those 16 straight Cookeville wins. Joslin departed Cookeville to take the head coaching job at Pope John Paul II in April.
Cook has his own Sparta connection. He is married to the former Julie Metcalf, who was a two-sport athlete during her high school years in Sparta. There is another connection to Sparta on the Cavalier staff. Former Warrior and TTU quarterback, Josh Lowery, is an assistant at Cookeville.
Sparta does have a former Cookeville player on staff as well. WCHS wide receivers coach, Will Campbell, was a wide receiver for the Cavaliers and graduated from Cookeville in 2011.
On top of all that, it is the District 6AAA opener and both teams come into the game winless at 0-2. It will be the home opener for the Cavaliers as well. This meeting between the two neighbors has the makings for a classic in the rivalry.
The Cavaliers are coming into the game with losses to Brentwood (2-0) and Tullahoma (1-1). The Warriors have suffered defeat at the hands of Smith County (2-0) and Seymour (2-0).
Cookeville went through the preseason trying to settle on a starter at quarterback and didn’t name their starter until right before the season opener. Ryan Eberle won that position.
In their 28-0 loss to Brentwood, Eberle completed 4 of 11 passes for 27 yards and was intercepted twice. Running back Alex Sklavenitis led the Cavs on the ground rushing 23 times for 86 yards. The Cavalier defense gave up 327 yards of offense, 238 of which came on the ground.
In their second game, the Cavaliers gave up 519 yards of total offense to Tullahoma in the 37-24 loss to the Wildcats. Cookeville trailed only 20-17 at the half. The Cavaliers were penalized 11 times for 73 yards in the game.
Desmond Pincheon led the Cavalier rushing attack with 97 yards and two touchdowns. Sklavenitis carried the ball 19 times for 71 yards. Eberle completed eight of 14 passes for 90 yards.
The Cavaliers, who finished the season 7-5 last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs, won last year’s meeting 30-6 in Sparta.
Houser had this to say of the Cavaliers, “Cookeville is a team that is much better than their record. They are coached extremely well and have played well both games so far. I expect for them to play very physical and play with a lot of pride. We must play hard and physical and execute on every single play to compete. We have had a lot of back luck so far this year and we’re hoping the ball bounces a little differently Friday night.”
The Warriors have had their share of struggles to start the season. In both of their losses, there have been a few key plays that have turned the tide in each game. Last week at Seymour, the game was tied in the middle of the third quarter, but Seymour finished the game with 24 unanswered points.
Houser commented on what the week of practice has been like in preparation for the Cavaliers.
“We are looking for answers on both sides of the ball. We haven’t executed like we need to so we’ve made some changes this week with the way we practice. We are focusing more on one side or the other with the majority of our players and getting lots of reps. We hope to play more people on Friday night and our players have responded well. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding what works for your team and every team is different. We are much different than last year’s squad and much different than other teams I have coached. We have to find what works for us and when we do, we’ll be okay.”
Even after just two games, the Warriors have already had to deal with injuries to several critical players.
Houser addressed that as well.
“We are still banged up pretty good. Hunter (Cantrell) is still out with a broken hand. Devon (Davidson) is still recovering from a game one injury. Blake (Lynn) has been slowed by an injury for most of the year. Several others have been sick and have fought through that. Injuries are a part of the game and we have to have guys step up. It’s not easy to replace some of those guys, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to play hard on Friday and execute to the best of our ability.”
Friday’s game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. in Cookeville.
Warrior opponents went 4-5 last week with Livingston Academy being idle.
Scores from last week:
Smith Co. 28 Gordonsville 27
Cookeville 24 Tullahoma 37
DeKalb Co. 65 Clay Co. 0
Coffee Co. 8 Marshall Co. 27
Loudon 7 Lenoir City 28
Warren Co. 13 Shelbyville 47
York Institute 44 Scott Co. 7
Cumberland Co. 20 Campbell Co. 39
All five District 6AAA teams are still winless, but that will change this week as the league slate begins. In addition to the Sparta/Cookeville match-up, Warren County will host Cumberland County.
In other action this week for White County opponents, the schedule looks this way:
Smith Co. (2-0) hosts Livingston Academy (1-0)
Seymour (2-0) at Cocke Co.
DeKalb Co. (2-0) at Cannon Co.
Loudon (0-1) at Alcoa
York Institute (2-0) at Upperman
Coffee County is idle.