What: Covington vs. Munford in season opener
Where: Covington High School
When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Ticket info: Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only approximately 1,000 tickets will be sold, which is about one-third of the stadium’s capacity. Tickets will not be available at the gate. They are available for $7 at Covington High School until 3 p.m. on Friday. Munford was given 250 tickets.
Thanks to COVID-19, the 2020 high school football season is shaping up to be like none before it in many ways.
Limited crowds, temperature checks, less practice, no scrimmages, no jamborees and scheduling snafus are just a few things that are making things, well, weird.
Something else happened earlier this week to add to the weirdness.
Covington head coach J.R. Kirby and Munford head coach Slade Calhoun, whose teams play Friday night in the season opener, talked to each other earlier this week about how they plan to beat each other … sort of.
Because they were no scrimmages or jamborees, neither coach has film to watch to have an idea of what’s coming. That’s a first for two coaches who really like to prepare.
“We gave each other a general idea of what we’re going to do,” said Calhoun, who is in his first year as Munford’s head coach.
Calhoun described the game as a friendly rivalry.
“If this was a region game would we be having this conversation? I doubt it,” Calhoun said. “It’s not like we got in depth. He said we’re going to do this and I said we’re going to do this and that was basically it. It’s not like we wrote each other a book. It was kind of one sentence, one sentence, okay we’re good.”
One of the most interesting things surrounding the game is what Munford’s offense will look like under Calhoun. Under head coach Nick Markle the last four seasons, Munford rolled out a run-first option offense. Three passes in a game was about the max.
When Calhoun was head coach at Haywood in 2011 and 2012, he ran a pass-first spread offense.
Kirby said he pulled film from those seasons for more information to supplement whatever Calhoun told him earlier this week.
“We know who his offensive coordinator (Reggie Neloms) is and where he’s been. We looked at those films, and of course I called people to try and get some ideas. If they come out with something we haven’t seen we’ll just play base, get lined up right and make adjustments.”
Covington’s offense figures to look much as it has the last few seasons. To Kirby, that’s an advantage.
“One positive for us they have changed offenses, they’re running something totally different and they’ve never run it against anybody live before,” Kirby said. “That’s not the case for our kids. Our kids have run this stuff live before. They have not.”
Calhoun acknowledged the conversation he had with Kirby just scratched the surface of what could happen once the game begins.
“I consider J.R. a coaching friend of mine and I would assume he feels the same way,” Calhoun said. “We’ve coached against each other at a lot of different schools. You just want to at least have an idea of how to get your kids lined up.”
Added Kirby: “Telling each other (a general game plan) and actually seeing it are two different things.”
Over the past 10 years, the rivalry between Munford and Covington has been pretty even. The Chargers have won six times and Munford four. From 2014 to 2017, each game was decided by 10 points or fewer.
The last two games, however, have not been competitive at all, with Covington winning by a combined score 90-14. Covington scored early, often and easily in both games. Munford managed just one first down last season.
While both coaches are obviously aware of how things have gone the last two years, both are preaching to their players to forget about it.
“Each year you look at each game independently,” Calhoun said. “What happened two years ago has no impact on this game, just like this game has nothing to do with what’s going to happen two years from now … I know and some of the older guys know what happened the last two years, but you can’t dwell on that. I don’t really want to plant that seed of what happened because if things go bad early you don’t want the feeling of, ‘Oh great, here we go again.’”
“I’ve already told them they’re looking to beat you,” Kirby said. “Those seniors are looking to go out on top and it’s the last time they get to play Covington and it’s the last time our seniors get to play Munford. They’re going to try and make the most of it.”
If there were odds on the game, Covington would definitely be the favorite. The Chargers return more starters, have the home field advantage and are coming off a season in which they advanced to the state semifinals. Some preseason polls have them ranked second in the state in Class 3A.
Calhoun said keeping this game in perspective is very important based on the circumstances under which it’s being played and recent history. Munford advanced to the playoffs each of the past two years, despite lopsided season-opening losses to Covington.
“If you look at the past you can say for sure we’ve improved a lot as the year has gone along,” Calhoun said. “No matter what happens to you in the first game, I don’t think you can let it define your season. It doesn’t matter if you win 100 to nothing or lose 100 to nothing, you’re still 1-0 or 0-1. The key is you can’t let that first game affect the next game, the next game and the next game. That’s something I think we’ve done a good job of. You have to put wins and losses behind you.”
Cougars to watch: RB Auvic White, RB Traveon Hawkins, QB Jaxon O’Neal, CB Kelton Mason
Chargers to watch: RB Marcus Hayes, QB Carson Ruffin, LB Lareko Burton, RB Jalen Fayne
Story lines: Masks must be worn, social distancing is encouraged and attendees will have their temperature checked before entering the stadium. Fans will be allowed to bring chairs into the stadium to help with social distancing … Because neither team was allowed to scrimmage other teams or take part in a jamboree, both coaches are concerned how the players will respond playing another team in front of a crowd for the first time. Covington coach J.R. Kirby said he’s concerned about too many penalties. “Maybe they’ll (officials) let us play a little bit because they know the situations.” Munford coach Slade Calhoun said, “You can say, ‘Go full speed’ in practice, but when you get out there against somebody else it’s a totally different thing when the adrenaline gets going.”
THE LAST 10
2010 Munford 27-Covington 12
2011 Covington 28-Munford 10
2012 Covington 49-Munford 7
2013 Covington 29-Munford 8
2014 Munford 10-Covington 7
2015 Munford 17-Covington 14
2016 Covington 13-Munford 6
2017 Munford 16-Covington 6
2018 Covington 55-Munford 14
2019 Covington 35-Munford 0
What: Brighton vs. Bolivar
Where: Bolivar High School
When: Friday at 7 p.m.
Cardinals to watch: QB Nick Harvell, RB Wesley Ervin, TE Bryce Chaco, LB Josh Fleming
Story lines: Both Brighton and Bolivar were originally scheduled to open the season against Memphis teams that have seen their seasons postponed because of COVID-19. This game came together about two weeks ago …. Brighton starting quarterback Nick Harvell has the same first name as last year’s starter, Nick Johnson, but their playing styles could not be much more different. Johnson, who graduated last spring, was a stay-in-the-pocket kind of QB. Harvell, who was converted from running back in the offseason, figures to use his legs a lot to move the offense … Bolivar, which plays in Region 7-3A, was winless in league play last year and 3-7 overall.