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Longtime rivals will face off on Friday
Coaches wish each other great seasons, except for a win Friday night

It's one of the longest, most exciting prep football rivalries in all of Georgia. And it will be played in the confines of The Brickyard in Thomson this Friday night.

The rivalry pits the Thomson High Bulldogs against the Washington-Wilkes Tigers in a nonregion showdown of two different school classifications. Thomson, a Class AAA power will attempt to beat the Tigers for what would be the fifth year in a row.

The Tigers, a Class A power, meanwhile, are poised to win their second game of the season. Washington-Wilkes defeated Banks County a week ago in their season opener. The final score was 34-21. Thomson didn't play last week -- for a second year in a row opening the season with an open date.

Despite not having played last week, like many area football teams, Thomson head coach Luther Welsh doesn't consider his team behind the eight ball. One word describes how coach Welsh feels about his team getting the opportunity to play: "Finally."

In an interview Monday with The McDuffie Mirror, coach Welsh said it has been a long time coming -- the Bulldogs' 2009 season opener.

"We're really looking forward to getting a chance to play our first game," coach Welsh said. "We've been working hard in preparation for this game for two weeks. It should be a good one."

Every game is an important one, the legendary coach Welsh said.

"But you always want to get started off on the right foot with a win in that first game," he pointed out. "When you get that win in the first game, it gives players the kind of attitude needed to work even harder in preparation for the next game. It gives them more of a hunger."

Just as much as the Bulldogs want to win, so do the Tigers.

Even though The Brickyard holds a special place in the heart of first-year Washington-Wilkes head coach Lee Hutto, where he played prep football and served as an assistant coach under coach Welsh for five years, it would be special for his Tigers to notch another win.

"We haven't beaten Thomson in a few years," coach Hutto said during an interview last Sunday, just prior to watching the scrimmage game film between Thomson and Lincoln County. "It'd be special to beat them this year."

It will mark the first time that coach Hutto, who led the Warren County Screaming Devils to the playoffs the past three years, has opposed his former mentor as head coach.

"It's going to be different standing on the opposite sidelines from Thomson," coach Hutto admitted. "I guess you could say it will even be a little strange."

It also will be an emotional time for him. In years past, coach Hutto was a starting defensive back for the Thomson Bulldogs. He started his sophomore, junior and senior years under Thomson defensive coordinator John Barnett.

"I've been a Bulldog practically all of my life," coach Hutto said. "But there's no doubt about it, I'm now a Tiger through and through."

He still wishes his former alma mater the best in sports, unless, of course, they happen to be playing Washington-Wilkes.

"Thomson is my second favorite team," coach Hutto said. "I have a lot of admiration and respect for Thomson. They have a great football program. It will be a challenge for us to play against such a great football program."

Coach Hutto said he visited with coach Welsh last Saturday in his office at Thomson High School.

"We spent about an hour with each other, just talking about our families and having casual conversation," coach Hutto said. "It's always great to be around Coach Welsh. I'm where I'm at now because of Coach Welsh and Coach Barnett. You can't help but learn when you learn from two of the best. I've truly been blessed to have a close friendship with those two men."

Coach Welsh also has praise and admiration for his former pupil. And so does coach Barnett.

"It's a big rivalry between Thomson and Washington-Wilkes," Coach Welsh said. "I have all the respect in the world for Lee. I'd like to see him win every game this season, but the one they play against us on Friday night."

Coach Barnett echoes those sentiments.

"He was a tireless worker when he played for me and when he served as my assistant coach for five years, overseeing our defensive line," coach Barnett said. "I'm very proud of what he's been able to accomplish as a head football coach. I just hope he doesn't accomplish what he wants to do on Friday night -- and that's to beat us."

Coach Barnett said it's going to be a tough challenge for his defensive squad.

"It's going to be very difficult to beat them," coach Barnett said. "They have three explosive backs, the quarterback, halfback and full back. We've definitely got our work cut out for us."

Web posted on Thursday, September 03, 2009

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