New coach Bowden leads Panthers into rivalry game

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2011

By Stephen Dawkins | Assistant Managing Editor

When Merritt Bowden and Donnie Hand take their positions on opposing sidelines Thursday night at Panther Stadium, it will be for the first time as coach of Jemison and Chilton County, respectively.

But the two men are familiar with a rivalry that defines high school football in Chilton County.

The new coaches at the two largest schools in the county are also graduates of those schools, so Bowden and Hand understand how important a win over their rival would be to the fan bases.

“It’s not like somebody coming from the outside and someone has to tell them how big of a game it is,” Hand said. “Being from here, nobody has got to say, ‘Hey, you’ve really got to win this one.’”

Hand’s Tigers will be looking to establish momentum before region play rolls around in Week 2 in the form of a visit from Demopolis, a program only two seasons removed from a Class 5A state championship.

CCHS ditched the spread offense when former coach Brian Carter departed, and Hand has installed a straight-ahead, smashmouth scheme relying on a big, skilled offensive line and a trio of running backs.

The Chilton offense will try to chew up yards and time in an effort to keep the ball away from what should be a potent Jemison attack.

The Panthers return the Chilton County area’s leading rusher in Javae Swindle (1,881 yards and 24 touchdowns on an average of 156.8 yards per game and 10.4 yards per carry) and receiver in Eddie Hubbard (52 receptions for 1,077 yards and 13 touchdowns) but will rely on a new quarterback, senior Tre Bryant.

“We know they’ve got speed and more speed,” Hand said. “We have to keep them from having any big plays passing, and we’ve got to keep the running back inside, not let him get outside for big plays.”

JHS will have extra motivation because Chilton County has won two consecutive games in the series, and six of the last seven.

The game begins at 7 p.m. at Jemison High School.

The players will be as excited about getting the season started as the fans.

“They’ve been talking about this week for a while,” Hand said.