Battle of defending state champs to share FNF spotlight - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Battle of defending state champs to share FNF spotlight

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SIGNAL MOUNTAIN, Tenn. (WRCB) -- Two of the Chattanooga area's top high school programs and most passionate fan bases will highlight the Week 5 prep slate this Friday.

And their names are not Baylor and McCallie.

Reigning state champions collide on Signal Mountain when the Eagles host South Pittsburg in what could be considered the other Friday Night Football Game of the Week.

While it's been no doubt one of the most anticipated games on the schedule the past three years, its hard to call it a true rivalry with only two past meetings between the schools.

"I don't know that it's so much a rivalry yet, but there's such a respect factor right now," said South Pittsburg head coach Vic Grider. "Kids tend to rise to competition, and they know we're going to play a quality football team on Friday night.

"We have a lot of respect for them and what they do, and we know it's going to be a tough, physical football game."

The series, which is only two years old, became more than just a measuring stick game for Signal Mountain in 2010. The Eagles stunned the Pirates at Beene Stadium 40-36 en route to an undefeated season and the program's first state title.

It was the first true signature win for a growing football power.

"It's South Pittsburg. They win, and that's something we want to do," said Signal Mountain quarterback Reese Phillips. "We knew, especially last year, that if we could be them we'd finally be qualified as winners. Now we want to keep our program on that level."

"Two years ago when we started this, we talked about getting our program to be like South Pittsburg," said Eagles' head coach Bill Price. "I think we're getting closer to that now."

While last year's win over the Pirates stands out as one of Signal Mountain's highest points, 2009's inaugural meeting is still quite the opposite.

"The game here at home stands out to me the most," said Eagles' fullback Zack Bowman of the Pirates' 48-20 rout. "We haven't lost a single game here at home besides that one, so we need to redeem ourselves this year."

The previous two games counted towards district seeding, but that's no longer the case with Signal Mountain moving up into Class 4A. Despite it no longer being a guaranteed game on the district schedule, both sides hope to continue the series for years to come.

"I think it's a game we can't afford to let go because it's such a good financial gain for both schools," said Grider. "But it's also a game you know you're going to get a quality opponent that will let you know where you stand as a football team, and games that do both of those are hard to come by a lot of the time.

"Unless something drastic changes, I think we'll keep playing for a long time."

Added Price: "A rivalry amongst two good teams, where the players and coaches respect each other, I just think it's good for high school football in Tennessee."

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