Local high school football rivalry is in full force on Friday night as the Eastside High Rams take on the undefeated Gainesville Hurricanes. Hurricanes coach James Thomson led his team to the 6A state semifinals last year, and his team is currently the top ranked team in Class 6A. Meanwhile the Rams, led by Jeff Parker, are 2-2 this season. But Thomson says rankings and records go out the window for a big city rivalry like this.
Parker agrees that the rivalry is exciting, especially for his players. He says he’s been working to get them to focus on the task ahead amidst their anticipation of the big matchup.
“We’ve gotta wait till Friday night to play this game,” Parker said. “It’s definitely not gonna be hard Friday to flip that switch and let the boys go out there and have a good time running around on that field.”
Thomson says the Hurricanes are faced with potential distractions as well. With standout players like quarterback Mark Cato, and college offers to multiple players, he says many teams would be tempted to feel prideful. However, he says his team is handling it well and staying focused.
“We’re real humble right now, we’re not a boastful team, we’re not a selfish team,” Thompson said. “I think when you get a lot of these guys who get college offers or a lot of attention, there could be a lot of individualism. But on this team, it’s real family oriented, real team oriented, and I think that’s really unique.”
The Hurricanes have won all four of their games this season, including a district matchup last weekend where they defeated Lake Weir 22-44. Rams coach Parker says the Hurricanes’ drive is evident on tape.
“I see a fundamentally sound football team, kids flying around, doing what they’ve been coached to do. They have a great passion for the game, and they look really well on film,” Parker said.
The Rams are coming off of a 22-16 win over Dunnellon at home despite the absence of one of their quarterbacks Sir Jackson, to injury. Parker says won’t take any risks and they will wait until Jackson is fully healthy to play him again. While the offense has been altered to account for the loss of Jackson, Parker says the defense is going strong.
“I think the defense is the strength of our team,” he said. “I think the last two years since I’ve been the head coach, our defense has always been ahead of the offense. Definitely, defenses win you ball games. We rely on our defense to do that for us, and they’re doing pretty well.”
On Thomson’s team, he says the leadership on offense has been key to the season. Running back Chris Thompson is committed to Florida, and Thomson says talented quarterback Mark Cato has been highly valuable in their success.
“He’s a competitor. He’s somebody that’s gonna line up and try to win the game. He’s somebody that’s hard working, always at practice, he’s a leader of the team,” Thomson said. “He’s exactly what you want in a quarterback. All the intangibles are there.”
The matchup between Thomson’s talented Gainesville offense and the Ram’s strong defense will kickoff Friday night at Citizen’s Field at 7:30pm.