There was no scoreboard, no game clock, no fancy logos and just a few portable bleachers on the sidelines, but that didn't matter.
The Grovetown Middle School football team didn't score a point in its debut Wednesday against Riverside Middle School, and that didn't matter, either.
The important thing was that the Patriots were playing football on their home turf.
"This wasn't designed to be a stadium," said Dan Sneeringer, Grovetown Middle's head football coach and athletic director. "We were supposed to play at another one of the stadiums, but we didn't want our boys to travel for a home game. We decided to do the best we could with this."
Columbia County's newest middle school opened in January, and Grovetown fielded spring sports teams, but the athletic excitement was turned up a notch as the inaugural gridiron appearance approached.
"The kids have been pumped up for the past two weeks," Sneeringer said. "They were getting bored at practice. They wanted to see what a real game was like. Today they had the opportunity to see what it was like."
Grovetown Middle School's Marquez Wimberly is tackled by Riverside Middle School defenders during Grovetown Middle's first football game.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Riverside was determined to be more than just a footnote on Grovetown's historic day. The Eagles received touchdown runs from Ross Ferguson and Ryan Larisey and earned a 14-0 shutout victory.
"Any win is a good win," Riverside coach Dan King said of beating the new kids on the block. "Right now were just trying to win our share of games."
The same goes for Grovetown, but the Patriots just need some time.
"We have 31 boys out here and only two returning players from last year, and out of the other 29, I bet 24 of them had never stepped on the field in an organized game," Sneeringer said. "You're really starting from ground zero. You go out there the first day of practice, put a football down and say, 'This is a football."'
The next lesson should be on gear - as Grovetown prepared to kick off to open the contest, the Patriots' Chris Steele sprinted toward the line of scrimmage, sans helmet.
Steele sheepishly made an about-face, and Sneeringer responded by telling his players, "Every one of you put your helmets on and buckle the chin straps!"
From there, things went smoothly for the Patriots.
Nose guard Jeremy Lewis recovered a fumble and also stopped a two-point conversion run by Riverside, running back Marquez Wimberly powered for good yardage, and Chad Wilson added a fumble recovery to thwart a second-half threat by the Eagles.
Grovetown mounted some offensive drives, but each march stalled when the Riverside defense stiffened. The key play of the game came late in the first half, as the Patriots coughed up the football deep in their own territory, and the Eagles scored to take a 14-0 lead.
"It was a very strong game," Sneeringer said. "We had a good game offensively, but we had a couple of botched plays, and that comes from lack of experience."
Gaining experience is what really matters in middle-school football, and that's why Grovetown was a winner Wednesday.
"I know they'll get their team going in the right direction. They played a good game," King said. "Their kids are enthusiastic and showed good sportsmanship. You always like to see that."
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