By Cecil Joyce for The Tennessean
Gary Rankin knows a few things about rivalries.
Rankin is the football coach at Alcoa High school in East Tennessee. His team’s rivalry with Maryville is regarded as one of the best in the nation. Alcoa and Maryville have combined to win 21 state titles since 1998.
“It’s a good rivalry when they’re talking about it in July, before the season, they’re talking about it at Christmas and they’re talking about it on Valentine’s Day,” said Rankin. “The kids, parents and whole community look forward to it for an entire year.”
He’s also had a hand in a couple of big Midstate rivalries. He was a player and coach at Smith County, which has had a longtime rivalry will fellow county school Gordonsville, and has also coached at Riverdale, which has one of the area’s top rivalries with Murfreesboro foe Oakland.
What makes a good rivalry? Proximity is an obvious answer. Teams from communities that are close to each other and have shared the same restaurants, movie theaters and local government tend to form good rivalries.
When a large school is split into two, instant rivalries can be built. Sometimes simply playing in the same district or region and having epic games for a long period of time can form a good rivalry.
While the addition of schools over the past 15 to 20 years has formed new rivalries across the Midstate, there are also some historic ones that stretch as far back as 90 years.
Here are the top rivalries in Middle Tennessee:
10. Dickson County vs. Henry County
This rivalry has been strong since 1977, with Henry County holding a 19-17 edge.
The teams didn’t play in 2013 or 2014 with Dickson County in 6A and Henry County in 5A, but they are back in the same league (Region 7-5A) and will renew their rivalry Friday at Dickson County.
This series has been one of streaks, with Dickson County winning five in a row during the late 1980s under Jerry Pearson (the Cougars won the state title in 1988) and Henry County taking seven in a row from 1991-97.
Henry County has won six in a row in the current streak, including 2011 and 2012 when the Patriots went 15-0 and won the 5A title in both seasons under James Counce Jr.
9. Brentwood vs. Franklin
As far as rivalries go, this one is about as close as it gets.
Before Centennial, Ravenwood, Independence and Summit came around, this was the matchup in Williamson County and is still a huge rivalry.
The two teams have met 22 times since 2000, including six times in the playoffs. Brentwood has won 12 of the 22 during that stretch, and no team has won more than three in a row since 2000. Of the last 22 meetings, 13 have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Want close? In 2009, Brentwood defeated Franklin 21-10 in the regular season and playoffs.Twice the team that won in the regular season lost to its rival in the playoffs.
Franklin holds a 20-17 advantage in the rivalry, which began in 1985 — shortly after Brentwood opened. Franklin won 10 of the first 12 meetings.
The Rebels have won the past three meetings, including a 21-13 win on Sept. 11.
8. Smith County vs. Gordonsville
These two county schools are separated by about seven miles, with train tracks and I-40 in between. They have met every season since 1930, except 1958 and 1959. Smith County, which has almost always been in a higher classification, owns a 62-18-2 advantage, including a 17-0 victory in August in the teams’ 82nd meeting.
Both teams have been highly successful in their respective classifications, with Gordonsville winning a Class 1A title as recently at 2012.
“That was a big-time rivalry,” said Rankin, who coached at Smith County in the mid-to-late 1980s before taking over at Riverdale in 1990. “When I got to Smith County, Gordonsville had the upper hand. The first time we beat them, they were No. 1 in the state and we had lost 20-something games in a row.”
Ron Marshall led Gordonsville to the 2012 state title and 13-1 record. The Tigers’ only loss that season? Smith County.
It wasn’t until the following year that the Tigers were able to snap a 14-game skid to the Owls.
The rivalry was nearly dissolved in 1995 when the two schools were almost consolidated. A $50 wheel tax and property tax hike to pay for a high school that would have combined the communities of Gordonsville and Carthage into one school was voted down.
7. Ensworth vs. MBA
This Division II matchup provides the newest of the rivalries but certainly is a big one.
Montgomery Bell Academy had some big rivals back in the day, including Brentwood Academy and Father Ryan. Enter Ensworth, which has been a high school for just more than a decade.
However, the rise didn’t take the Tigers long under Coach Ricky Bowers, who both played and coached at Montgomery Bell Academy but left his alma mater to take over the Ensworth athletic program.
The on-the-field rivalry between Ensworth and MBA hit its peak in 2014 when the two squads were the best in Division II-AA. Ensworth won 50-44 in overtime in the regular season, and MBA captured a 10-7 win in the DII-AA title game.
However, the biggest basis for the rivalry was how Ensworth High School was founded. Ensworth’s K-8 school was one of MBA’s primary feeders before a group led by Tommy Frist, a staunch MBA supporter with seven granddaughters who lobbied to have the school turn co-ed, built the new high school.
Ensworth owns an 8-4 edge in the series, which started in 2007. The two teams play in the regular-season finale on Oct. 30.
6. Portland vs. White House
This northern Sumner County rivalry is the closest, in terms of results.
The two schools have played since 1945, although they played just four games between the first season and 1976. The Panthers and Blue Devils have met every season since then, with White House owning a 24-23 edge (with Portland notching a 28-17 victory on Sept. 4). White House has won 11 of the last 14 meetings.
While location makes this the ideal rivalry, success has also played a huge role. White House won the Class 3A title in 1997 and Portland won it in 2000.
The series took a small hit when Portland moved up in classification in the mid-2000s, but the teams are back in the same class — and region — in 2015.
“I think it lost a little after we moved out of the same classification,” said Portland resident Eddie Brewster, who was a football player and 1988 graduate of Portland. His father, James, was a Panther player and graduated in 1965. His son, Ryan, is a sophomore football player this season at Portland.
“When I played it was one of the biggest rivalries, for sure. I look for it to be a big game again, now that we are in the same (region). (Portland) also hasn’t been competitive for a few years, but I think we’re back on the right track. It was good to beat them again.”
5. Pope John Paul II vs. Father Ryan
Another of the newer rivalries, this one is all about the Bishop’s Cup — the award given to the winner each year.
Bragging rights in the Catholic community is also a huge factor.
“I’m very proud of both Father Ryan and Pope John Paul II,” said Most Reverend David R. Choby, Archbishop of Nashville. “There is a natural competitiveness between the two schools. It’s a good-spirited competitiveness. One thing I really like watching is how the players always conclude the game by praying together.
“A lot of families who would be at Pope John Paul II would certainly have connections back to the earlier years of Father Ryan.”
While most of the games between the two have been highly competitive, Father Ryan holds a 9-2 lead in the series, including a 30-22 win on Sept. 11. JPII won the first matchup 49-21 in 2005.
4. Goodpasture vs. Lipscomb Academy
This rivalry goes back to the 1960s, when Lipscomb not only dominated football, but every other sport against Goodpasture.
“We lost to them every single game in every single sport,” said Alan Banks, who quarterbacked Goodpasture from 1975-77. He was also in the first class to go all the way through from first to 12th grade at Goodpasture. “We did not beat a Lipscomb sports team until my junior year.”
The history of the school formerly known as David Lipscomb dates back to the late 1800s. Goodpasture opened in 1967 and was known as East Nashville Christian School for a couple of years before changing to B.C. Goodpasture Christian.
“We beat them (by one touchdown) my junior year, and that was the first time we had beaten a Lipscomb athletic team,” Banks said. The following year Banks earned All-State honors and Goodpasture rolled to a 42-6 win over Lipscomb. It started a six-game winning streak for the Cougars.
Lipscomb owns a 24-23 advantage, including a 45-7 victory on Sept. 25, the Mustangs’ third victory in a row in the series by a combined 118-21. Lipscomb won five in a row from 2002-05 (including a 2004 playoff win) after Goodpasture had reeled off four in a row from 2000-2002 (including a 2000 playoff victory).
Goodpasture defeated Lipscomb 21-14 in 2007, the Mustangs’ only loss in a Class 3A championship season.
“A lot of us were friends,” said Banks, who went on to play college basketball at David Lipscomb University. “Their linebacker/fullback, Jim Kay (now a Nashville attorney) was a good friend of mine. After games we would spend the night with each other. We were buddies.
“It was a bitter rivalry, but we all respected each other.”
The game has taken place at several locations, including Cohn High and Litton High, where Goodpasture played home games until 1977.
Despite being in different classifications over recent years (Lipscomb is in 4A, Goodpasture 3A), the teams could end up league rivals again if both enter Division II under future Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association public-private guidelines.
3. Gallatin vs. Hendersonville
Gallatin and Hendersonville have had “newer” and closer (proximity) rivals since the 1980s: Beech vs. Hendersonville, Station Camp vs. Gallatin.
But there’s no denying the magnitude the Green Wave vs. the Commandos still has in Sumner County.
The series dates back to the 1940s, although the teams have played regularly since 1964.
Gallatin leads the series 41-16-1, but a lot of those wins came when the Green Wave dominated football in the Midstate from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s.
Robert Lassiter, who played quarterback at Gallatin (1966-68), coached Hendersonville from 1993-97 and Gallatin from 1998-2011.
“There are some inner-city games (Beech vs. Hendersonville, Station Camp vs. Gallatin) that are big for those schools, but there’s no doubt in my mind Gallatin-Hendersonville is still the biggest rivalry,” Lassiter said. “There have been great kids on both sides who have played especially hard in this game. It’s something they’ve looked forward to for 365 days every year.”
Since 2001 the teams have met three times in the playoffs, with Hendersonville winning each time. The Commandos accomplished that feat twice (2010, 11) after having lost to the Green Wave in the regular season.
Hendersonville won last season 56-14. The two play again Friday night at Hendersonville.
2. Tullahoma vs. Coffee County
In 2014 a bobcat was found shot and hanging from a goalpost at Tullahoma High school the week of the annual Coffee Pot rivalry between the Wildcats and Coffee County.
While that was a dark moment in the storied 90-year history of the rivalry, it shows how intense and competitive the two schools are.
Tullahoma dominated the series recently until Coffee County, led by dual-threat sophomore quarterback Alontae Taylor (a Vanderbilt commitment) rolled 42-7 on Aug. 21. Before that, the Wildcats had reeled off eight straight wins.
Tullahoma owns a 58-30-2 record in the series and kept the Coffee Pot from 2007-14.
“I went to my first Coffee Pot game in 1964 or ’65 on Manchester’s old field, which is now the sheriff’s headquarters,” said Pat Welsh, Chairman of Tullahoma City Schools and a 1972 Tullahoma graduate. He played on the 1970 and ’71 Wildcat teams. He was also coached football at BGA in the late 1970s.
“(Current Tullahoma) Coach (John) Olive has won 19 of 23 of these games. We’re proud of him.”
Years ago both teams were in the Central Tennessee Conference. Now they are separated by two classifications (Coffee County competing in 6A and Tullahoma 4A).
“Some of these games have been blowouts, but most of them have been great games,” Welsh said. “One year a team would win by two touchdowns and the next year they wouldn’t get across the 50-yard-line.
“Both (communities) are close to each other. (Air Force’s) Arnold Engineering Development Center has been a leading employer for both towns.”
1. Riverdale vs. Oakland
Many believe the 1970 Central High football team was the best to ever play in Murfreesboro — perhaps
Two years later that school and its storied football program was divided as Riverdale and Oakland opened in 1972 with Central becoming a middle school feeder for both.
That helped fuel the Battle of the ‘Boro, which is as intense as ever, despite two new schools (Blackman 2000, Siegel 2003) opening in Murfreesboro over the past 15 years.
“There’s so much history with it,” said Rankin, who coached Riverdale from 1990 until he left for Alcoa following the 2005 season. Riverdale had lost three in a row to Oakland prior to Rankin’s arrival, and the Patriots were coming off a Clinic Bowl appearance in 1989. “When I got there, Oakland had the upper hand.”
The Patriots knocked off the Warriors 19-10 in 1990 during the last game of a 4-6 campaign for Rankin, but Riverdale took off after that. The Warriors won eight straight meetings during a stretch when Riverdale reached four state championship games (winning two titles) and went 99-10 overall.
That streak was snapped during the 1998 Class 5A quarterfinals when Oakland knocked off an unbeaten Riverdale team 26-7 to advance to the semifinals and ultimately a state title under Coach Marty Euverard.
Oakland won again in 2000, but Riverdale reeled off nine straight between 2001-07 (including twice in the playoffs) with Rankin and current coach Ron Aydelott at the helm.
“We were generally drawing 10,000 to 15,000 at MTSU (former home field for both teams),” Rankin said. “I remember one of our games we almost had that place full. There were also a little rifts with coaches, too. I don’t know if that’s a positive thing. They changed coaches quite a bit (five during Rankin’s tenure at Riverdale). It got pretty bitter at times.”
Oakland again snapped the streak during a season in which it captured a state title, defeating Riverdale 17-6 in 2008 en route to a 14-1 season and 6A title under Coach Thomas McDaniel.
Riverdale leads the series 32-12, with Oakland holding a two-game winning streak, including a 42-20 victory last season. The two play Oct. 16 at Oakland.
Oakland (3) and Riverdale (4) have combined to win seven state championships — all at the state’s highest classification — since 1984.