WINDER, Ga - The Battle of Barrow pits the only two high schools in Barrow County against each other. Apalachee and Winder-Barrow have played 14 times with the Doggs holding a slight 8-6 series lead. The Wildcats, however, have lost five straight to Winder-Barrow. You'd think both coaches would be keenly aware of what's about to happen Friday night at R. Harold Harrison Stadium- you'd be wrong.
"I really don't know much about it - only what I've heard," said Apalachee head coach Tony Lotti, who's in his first year coaching the Wildcats. "It goes way back and clearly it's a big deal for the community here in Winder, but we're not strangers to big games and its important that we play well."
When Lotti says "we're not strangers", he's referring to Winder-Barrow's first-year head coach Ed Dudley who's coached at some of the state's powerhouse schools after stints at Walton, Ware County and Carrollton.
"Here we are," said Dudley. "...a couple of old goats still developing relationships with our players and coaches and trying to win some games."
Dudley and Lotti are good friends, and the same can be said for many of the players that will be staring at each other across the line of scrimmage on Friday night. Dudley says this week's film sessions were interesting because his players had inside knowledge that couldn't be gleaned from just watching game action on the TV screen.
"We'd be watching film and they'd say, 'That's John Doe, I know him. He's left-handed and he's not 5'8", 150 pounds, he's really 5'10', 163 pounds.' That's because they've grown up playing rec ball together- they know each other," Dudley said. "This game (high school football) has gotten so big with all of the social media and media attention these days, but this is what it's really all about- a cross-town rivalry."
The rivalry is intense, but unique, considering the two schools will come together for what amounts to a shared pep rally Thursday evening at the "Tailgate Winder" event held at the city's amphitheater. Both bands are scheduled to play, and both coaches will speak to the the crowd before doing battle on Friday night.
Both Lotti and Dudley have found coaching homes in a community that appreciates their respective pedigrees- Lotti coming off six successful seasons at West Hall, and Dudley returning to the head coaching ranks after spending two years as an assistant with Franklin Pridgen at Wesleyan. Dudley officially retired in 2015 after two years at Carrollton and decided he'd rather help coach his son, Sam, who played tight end for the Wolves. He also briefly enjoyed the shorter commute from his Dunwoody home.
"I was able to sit back and watch," Dudley told High 5 Sports. "I learned a ton about player development from Franklin, plus a new type of spread offense, some of which I've incorporated here in Winder."
Eventually, the itch was too great, and Dudley returned to the head coaching ranks after Heath Webb left Winder-Barrow to become the head man at Gainesville. Dudley says he missed the day-to-day routine of being in charge. So far, his young team has proven to be a mixed bag, playing well in wins over Cedar Shoals and Loganville, and falling flat in a maddening 27-0 loss to Oconee County.
Lotti's Wildcats are on a roll, winning two games and taking High 5 Sports Team of the Week honors after beating Walnut Grove in overtime.
Atlanta Sports Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Bill Hartman will cover all of the action Friday night. His reports can be seen at 11 o'clock on the Big Show. Who will win the Golden Hand Trophy for week 7? Tune in and find out!