HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - At the beginning of the season, area football fans may not have expected this week’s match-up between Hermitage and Varina to be Game of the Week-worthy, but strong starts by both teams has put this annual meeting of traditional powers back in the spotlight.
Hermitage finished 2018 with a 1-9 record, but certainly appears to be primed for a bounce-back campaign. Last week’s 21-19 win over Thomas Dale showed the local football world that the Panthers had quite possibly returned to form.
“That was huge,” said Hermitage interim head coach Earl Kinney. “Most of the upperclassman left last year and so, very young kids, lots of freshman, lots of sophomores, sophomores who, probably in this program, would’ve been on JV, they had to play varsity. It was tough for them.”
“We felt beat, felt like everybody was on us, felt like everybody was taking advantage of what we had,” recalled junior center Billy Gough. “Now it feels like we’re on top, even though we’re not. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Panthers enter this week with a 2-1 record, doubling last season’s win total, as a refined coaching staff has put its fingerprint on the program. The team is succeeding while ignoring distractions away from the field.
“When whatever distractions happened, there’s so much to do, we just kept it going as if nothing had happened,” observed Kinney.
Hermitage takes on a Varina team on Friday that is also 2-1 on the season and has won two straight games. Both squads are an overtime loss away from being undefeated, the Blue Devils falling to Manchester in double overtime in their season opener, and Herm losing to Henrico in an extra frame during week two. Varina boasts speed and experience, and appears to have all the pieces of a championship contender.
“We know they’re good, we know they have great speed, we know they have great talent, and we expect it to be like it’s always been,” said Kinney.
“They go until the whistle blows. They play hard,” said Varina senior linebacker Nazeer Jordan of Hermitage. “Their coach, they brought that L.C. Bird type of play over there, so they go until the whistle blows.”
This rivalry has been strong for the better part of the last two decades. Varina suffered losing seasons from 2014-2016, and Hermitage was very down last year, both uncharacteristic. The Blue Devils have put together back-to-back eight win campaigns, while the Panthers appear to be on the rise, and both teams seemingly back to playing at a high level only helps make football in central Virginia better.
“I’m proud of the guys with what we went through four or five years ago, what they witnessed when they were young and are we back? I don’t know, but also it’s a compliment to Hermitage and where they are,” said Varina head coach Stu Brown."
“Hopefully we’ll fill that big stand with five thousand people and two ranked opponents and put on a great show for all the people there,” added Kinney," make it what people expect for a Varina-Hermitage game."
Kickoff is set for Friday at 7:00 at Hermitage.
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