“This game either makes or breaks this team,” he said. “You better win that game … that determines the season.”
For the past five years, the annual Clay Bowl determined the Clay County Panthers’ football season success. This year marks the 100th meeting between the Panthers and the Lineville Aggies — likely the last one to be played in Lineville. Clay County is 2-2 as a small 3A school, and Lineville is 3-1 in 2A.
Five older men sit on folding chairs in a semi-circle professing apathy toward the game — possibly because of the past five years — at the Clay County Exchange in Lineville, five miles north along Alabama 9.
At least until more recent Lineville High School graduates walk in.
“We got a lot of speed on offense,” said Antonio Ehale, who played for the Aggies in the early 2000s. “Every one of them guys. They make a move, they gone.”
He and LaDondric Lindsey, cousin of Lineville quarterback Demetrius Lindsey, are about ready for the game to start on Tuesday morning.
“We have friends from Anniston, Talladega, Georgia coming here for the game,” Lindsey said.
Conversation among the seated men turns to who played and how the rivalry was in those days. There was more animosity between the cities then. Jack Satterfield, class of ’48, described the double-bridge separating the two and how the teams would gather on their respective sides in the nights leading up to the game.
“They’d try to paint it blue and white, we’d try to paint it red and black,” Satterfield said. “That was the Mason-Dixon Line.”
Lineville leads the series overall, 52-43-4. If the new consolidated high school is finished in 2012 as planned, Lineville will end up with the lead in the overall series no matter how the next two games play out. Feelings about the consolidation around the two cities are mixed.
“To me it’s very bittersweet,” said Steve Giddens, Lineville head coach. “You’re losing your identity as Lineville, as Ashland.”
Clay Bowl history binds the two nearby cities together, with kinfolk playing on both sides and people working together, Giddens said.
Giddens played for Ashland years ago and added a chapter to the history of Clay Bowl pranks, Wheeles said from his seat at Jordan’s. He, current Benjamin Russell coach Danny Horn and a couple of friends once painted the press box Ashland colors during their playing days. But Horn lost his wallet at the scene, Wheeles explained, and the two future coaches and their accomplices had to go back and clean it up.
Talk of consolidation has floated around for a few years, Giddens said. The initial shock wore off for him and now he’s accepted it.
“There’s an air of inevitability,” he said. “It’s an odd feeling.”
Property between the two cities was bought a while back, said county school superintendent Garey Reynolds. Ground hasn’t been broken yet, but Reynolds said the school board is one step away from beginning construction.
“I hate to lose this. It makes Clay County,” Clay County head coach Kris Herron said. “It’s not just a school rivalry, it’s city council against city council.”
Both coaches are fully focused on the game at hand, however.
The Panthers are loaded in the trenches, with 16 kids over 240 pounds each. The Aggies are fast and dangerous at skill positions.
Giddens expects a close game for all four quarters. He doesn’t know how his team will react to playing a close game.
“We haven’t had to play the second half in three weeks,” Giddens said. “We’re going to find out starting Friday.”
Herron feels that the key to the game is tuning out the festivities and hoopla surrounding the 100th Clay Bowl. Nothing matters — not records, not divisions — but the teams on the field.
“We have to focus on what we do,” said Herron, standing beside the yellow booth at Jordan’s. “We’re barely in 3A … it’s still Ashland-Lineville.”
Former players stopped to listen to Herron while they paid for gas and drinks.
Donny Pitts, a member of the 2000 Clay County state title team who stopped in, said he tells the current players to make the most of their playing days while they can.
“It was the best times of our lives,” he said. “I’d give anything to get back there.”
Contact staff writer Jason Bacaj at 256.235.3546