Valley Preps

What’s at stake for prep football rivals in ‘Iron Bowl of Columbus’ face off

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Dave Nurnberg paced the Northside baseball field’s outfield as the Patriots ran through warm-ups before their second-to-last practice of the season. Players shouted, others sang, some jumped around. The Patriots don’t have a win this year and won’t make the playoffs, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this scene.

It’s Columbus week. Today, for these two bitter rivals, wins and losses don’t matter.

“Biggest game of the year,” Northside senior quarterback Chandler Blanton said. “It’s the Iron Bowl of Columbus, Georgia. We hate Columbus here, and they hate us. You get on that field, and your friends across town ain’t your friends. We want this more than anything.”

Columbus-Northside (7:30 p.m Friday at Kinnett Stadium) may not have the history and tradition of rivalries like the Heritage Bowl between Spencer and Carver, or the Battle for the Broocelli Jug between Brookstone and Pacell — the teams first met in 2004, and Northside leads the all-time series 11-4. But don’t let the brief history or the teams’ 1-17 combined record fool you: this year’s game takes on a bit more importance.

For these two struggling teams, this rivalry offers the chance to end the season on a high, and for seniors to close out their high school careers with a win over a bitter rival.

Columbus won its season opener against Spencer and hasn’t won since. Northside is winless overall and neither team boasts a region win. Last season, the Blue Devils had something to look forward to following the Northside game. They were 5-4 entering that game, and had postseason play on the horizon.

That’s obviously not the case for this year’s Blue Devils. Neither team will make the playoffs, though their records might be a bit deceiving: Columbus lost by just three points to a Hardaway team that might make the playoffs. Northside put up 42 points on 5A Harris County and lost to Spencer by a touchdown.

Still, Friday night will mark the end of the teams’ respective seasons.

“Despite all the games we’ve lost, the only thing the students are saying is, ‘as long as y’all beat Northside,’” Columbus senior running back and Yale commit Tre Peterson said. “We’ve got to come out here and play hard, man. Play like we haven’t played all season.”

Peterson remembers stepping onto the field for the first time against Columbus as a freshman back in 2015. He was shocked at how big and tall the opposing players stood, and could not believe the atmosphere inside Kinnett. Northside went 6-3 that season and finished second in the region, and Columbus made the playoffs after two region mini-games.

Columbus senior linebacker Marcial Buckner expects a packed house for what could serve as the final game (at least for the foreseeable future) between the two rivals. With the GHSA’s reclassification announcement Tuesday, Northside will move from class 4A to class 6A beginning next school year. Columbus will remain in 4A.

It’s unknown whether Northside will appeal the move — athletic director Morgan Ingram did not return phone calls — and Muscogee County School District athletic director Jeff Battles said in a text message that future schedules won’t be looked at until regions are set.

Northside coach Dave Nurnberg is 2-2 all-time against Columbus. Both of the wins came while he coached at Jordan, in 2009 and 2010. The Patriots have won four of the last five games between the two schools and eight of the previous 10, but Columbus won 34-3 last year.

“This is going to possibly be the last time we play them,” Peterson said. “One school is always trying to be better than the other. It’s a rivalry we love because of the energy it brings.”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.