It’s a chill Friday night in the fall. The stands are full, the marching band is hitting every note to perfection, and the student section is packed to the brim, never taking a play off from the cheers.
Friday night high school football is the best the sport has to offer, at any level of play. And Friday night football in the Piedmont District could be a bit more interesting this year.
It will be a new-look Piedmont District in 2019. Franklin County is gone and joining the Blue Ridge District, dropping the league back down to seven schools. But the biggest changes come not with the schools in the district, but where they line up in VHSL alignment. For the 2019-2020 school year, Bassett is dropping from VHSL Class 4 to Class 3, joining Magna Vista and Tunstall as one of three Class 3 schools in the district.
Now, when Bassett and Magna Vista meet up for the regular season finale on November 8, there could be more than just the Smith River Rivalry trophy on the line. There could also be playoff implications.
The Bengals will join Region 3D and take on three region opponents during the regular season this year – Tunstall, Rustburg, and Magna Vista – giving the team a chance to see how they stack up in their new home.
“We play three opponents that we could play in the playoffs and it’s really set us up for a chance to see what playoff football is going to be like in our regular season,” said Bassett Head Coach Brandon Johnson. “Magna Vista is always in the top three or four teams, so right now, going to (Class 3), we’re on an even playing field I feel like… It’s going to be interesting.”
The Bengals and Warriors rivalry goes back decades. Magna Vista Head Coach Joe Favero doesn’t expect Bassett’s move to Class 3 to change anything as far as the rivalry goes – “I think when you play local teams it really doesn’t matter what level they’re playing at,” he said. “Especially with all the kids knowing each other between us, Martinsville, and Bassett, they mean a lot and mean a lot to the community.” But the chance for the two teams to potentially not just play in the regular season with playoffs on the line, but meet up again in the postseason is there.
Johnson is excited at that prospect.
“I’m excited to be in (Class 3),” Johnson said. “We play Magna Vista in Week 10. That could have seeding on the line there. To say I’m excited would be an understatement to be in (Class 3). That’s where I’m familiar. I’m familiar with a lot of those opponents. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun to play these guys.”
The other former Class 3 school, Patrick County, will move down to Class 2, joining Martinsville as the two smallest schools in the district. The changes to the Piedmont District will also help both the Bulldogs and Eagles in two ways.
One, with Franklin County leaving, there’s no longer a spread of five different classes in the district, and Martinsville is able to play every other team on the football field (The Bulldogs previously didn’t schedule Franklin County due to the two schools’ size differences).
Martinsville having Patrick County in Region 2C could also help build up a rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Cougars. That rivalry has been budding on other playing surfaces – especially the basketball court – for several seasons. But in a region where three or four wins can still lead to a playoff spot, last season’s win by PC in Stuart would now carry much more weight.
“I think with us and Martinsville being in the same pod to begin with, I think that’s definitely going to be a situation where we’re really looking forward to it,” said Patrick County Head Coach David Morrison. “Year-in and year-out we really look forward to these district games. Coming from Patrick County, being a Patrick County graduate, I can remember all the old district games, and in a lot of ways it’s kind of like taking a step back in time when you look at kind of the level of football that these schools are playing.
“It seems like everything is coming back to that same old classification system. It’s definitely going to be more exciting for our kids knowing that year-in and year-out that you can go down the road to Martinsville or Martinsville’s coming up here and there’s definitely that playoff implication right there on the line. That’s definitely going to be a situation that our kids are going to pretty amped up for it already.”
In Morrison’s second season at the helm of the Cougars, the team in Stuart has already seen improvements being made. To him, his players’ biggest goal is having success in the district, which is what they’re building towards.
Morrison made sure to reiterate that, at the end of the day, the schedule doesn’t change. The core schools who have always played one another will continue to play one another. And when it comes to the playoffs, it’s never easy.
“Postseason wise, I’m telling you (Class) 2 is still tough,” he said. “There are some hammers in 2C there. It’s not an easy out at all… I like the realignment. I think it’s awesome, and I definitely think it’s a better suit for us… That doesn’t mean they’re any less solid on the gridiron. These guys are tough, man, so we’re looking forward to the challenge and we just hope we get an opportunity to get there and make something happen.”
Get your blankets and hot chocolate ready for those early November Friday night chills under the lights. Beginning August 30, there are 11 weeks of football, and while every week of the regular season is important, this year that couldn’t be more true.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241. Chris Doherty contributed reporting to this story.