Longtime rivals to renew acquaintances in Fort Valley on Friday

The Mary Persons Bulldogs will renew a long-standing Middle Georgia rivalry on Friday when the Dogs travel to Fort Valley to face perennial power Peach County at 8 p.m.

The Bulldogs and Trojans, which are tied 6-6 in the all-time series, have not met since 2011 when they last shared a region. Peach County has dominated the rivalry recently, winning the last five meetings since 2003. MP’s last win in the series came in 2002 when the Bulldogs beat a Peach team quarterbacked by future UGA standout A.J. Bryant 20-14 at Dan Pitts Stadium.

MP won six of the first seven meetings between the two programs from 1972 to 1987, including MP’s last road win in the series in 1987.

The two programs share numerous ties as MP principal Jim Finch formerly coached at Peach County while former MP athletic director and head coach Rodney Walker also coached at Peach County from 1994-98. Walker’s 1998 squad lost to Dougherty 27-7 in the AAA state championship game.

Peach County has captured three state titles in the past 11 seasons in 2005, 2006 and 2009. Current head coach Chad Campbell was the Trojans’ head coach in 2009 when Peach County knocked off a Gainesville team quarterbacked by future Alabama star Blake Sims in the AAA state championship game to complete a perfect 15-0 campaign. Under Campbell, Peach County has won 97 of 117 games since 2007. Peach County has also put nine players in the NFL in the program’s history, including former Pittsburgh Steelers’ star Greg Lloyd.

Despite the marquee opponent, MP head coach Brian Nelson said he’s not approaching Friday’s game any different than any other non-region game.

“I say this all the time. We really don’t try to put any more emphasis on one game than the others,” Nelson said. “It’s the next game on our schedule. We’re gonna prepare and practice as hard as we can and go down there and play the game and see what happens. All that other stuff is kind of for you (Reporter) to write about or somebody in the stands to talk about. But we’re gonna prepare for them just like we prepared for Forest Park or Booker T. (Washington) or Jackson or whoever.”

Peach County opened its 2016 season on Aug. 26 with AAAAAA No. 1 Houston County at home one week after MP fell in its opener at Mercer to the powerful Bears. The Trojans’ offense fared better against HoCo than did MP’s, scoring 31 points, but whereas MP held HoCo and quarterback Jake Fromm to just 26 points, Peach County yielded 49 in an 18-point loss. The Trojans then narrowly defeated AAAAA Warner Robins 20-19 on the road on Sept. 9 before thumping rival Perry on the road 38-6.

The Trojans, ranked No. 4 in AAA in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) poll, have gotten off to a solid start on the field despite enduring an awful tragedy less than a week before the start of the season when senior Raekwon Smith was killed in a one-vehicle accident while returning home from a preseason football pool party on Aug. 20. Three other Trojan football players, Randolph Williams, Eric Robinson and Ejuan McKellar, were injured in the crash. At a community vigil on Aug. 23 to remember Smith’s life, according to Macon’s 13WMAZ, Campbell told his players: “Don’t take anything for granted. You never know when you’ll wake up the next day or not. Make the most of your opportunities. Live life to the fullest.”

Peach County’s 2016 team is led on offense by junior receiver Kearis Jackson, who already has offers from college superpowers Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Georgia. On defense, the Trojans are led by the brother linebacking tandem of seniors Kevin Nixon and Kyle Nixon, who are also each receiving extensive college interest.

MP, ranked No. 6 in AAAA in Sunday’s AJC poll, also enters Friday’s contest on a roll, having won three straight games following its season-opening loss to Houston County. The Bulldogs’ defense has not allowed a point since the first half of MP’s 14-7 road win at Jackson on Aug. 26, having blanked the Dogs’ last two opponents, Washington and Forest Park by a combined score of 86-0.

Meanwhile, the MP JV football squad was scheduled to travel to Jackson at 5 p.m. on Thursday while the MP 9th Grade team will also be on the road on Thursday, facing Veterans at 5 p.m. Also, the Monroe County Middle School Bulldogs fell 26-14 at Lamar County Middle last Wednesday. Monroe County, 0-2, will next host Clifton Ridge at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.