There’s a rumble in the jungle. Its steady pulse has been growing louder and louder during the week, during this season—even during last school year.
The jungle is the Goddard city limits, where Lions and Tigers are preparing for a newborn tradition of Astroturf warfare.
Goddard versus Eisenhower.
After the newly christened Eisenhower Tigers took the field for the first time ever this August, the whole Goddard community has been steadily counting down the weeks and games until the last one of the regular season.
Friday night’s game marks the first-ever football game of the rivalry between the Goddard Lions (3-5) and the Goddard Eisenhower Tigers (1-7).
And, according to both teams’ coaches, the whole community—players, students, faculty, parents, fans—are excited for the game.
“It doesn’t matter about the records right now—it’s about Goddard versus Eisenhower,” Tigers’ coach Charlie Nally said. “It’s exciting for everybody, and I think it’s going to be a great rivalry.”
The Lions’ coach Scott Vang said there would be festivities for the students and fans before the game and during halftime, including performances by both schools’ marching bands.
But, although the players are excited for the rivalry game, both coaches said the players have been fairly relaxed, compared to other members of the community.
“We’ve been pretty focused, because we have a chance to go 2-1 in the district,” Vang said. “We’ve been talking about keeping the emotion out of the game this week. That’s more for the fans and parents than it is for the players. Right now, our guys are focused on winning this game.”
RAISING THE STAKES
Vang said his Goddard team has to stay balanced and keep emotions in-check to be successful on the field Friday night. The stakes are higher for Goddard, he added, because a win would secure the Lions’ bid for the playoffs.
“A win would be huge for us, because we have a chance to go 2-1 in the district and make the playoffs,” he said. “And maybe we can upset someone in the playoffs, and keep moving on. Our players have worked hard. They deserve all the positives they can get out of the season. We just have to see if we can get them.”
Because the two teams were still combined under the Goddard football program last season, despite the split district, most of the players will be competing against their friends and former teammates.
“It’s been exciting watching Goddard all year,” said Nally, who was the head coach for the Lions last season. “I’ve wanted the Lions to win. I wished them the best of luck every week, except this one. This week, it’s war, and we just can’t wait until kick-off.”
Both teams have struggled with injuries and tough opponents this season, but the idea of winning bragging rights of the city limits has gotten both teams—and fan bases—fired up, the coaches said.
“It gives you something to end on that you can build on next season,” Nally said. “It’s a matter of growing as a football team, and improving every year.”
A CAPSTONE VICTORY
It’s also the final regular season game for both programs, and the coaches said they were happy with their players’ effort this year, despite the tough seasons.
“They bought into the idea that you have to play hard and focus,” Vang said of his Goddard team. “I think our players, and our seniors especially, have set a good base for next year and the years to come.”
Nally said the Tigers have improved during the course of the season, and hopes to get all three aspects of the game—offense, defense, and special teams—working together effectively, because he says that hasn’t happened yet this year.
“I think it’s going to be a very hard-hitting game,” Nally said. “We need to keep their offense off the field, and ours on the field. If we don’t, then they’re going to win the game. Both teams are capable of scoring, so it comes down to control and possession of the ball.”
TWO TEAMS, ONE HOME FIELD
Both teams will be playing in their home stadium at Goddard High School, with Eisenhower hosting and Goddard playing on the visitors’ side—a first for the team this season. And, with packed home crowds and student sections for both sides, the stadium is going to be anything but quiet.
“I don’t think either team is going to quit or lay down,” Nally said. “They’re going to fight the whole game. It’s great to be able to coach a game like that—a game that brings out that much enthusiasm for both schools.”
Vang said that, as heated as the atmosphere around Goddard is now, he believes it will grow much more intense as the rivalry progresses.
“I’ve been telling the players, ‘We respect everybody. We fear nobody. And we definitely respect Eisenhower,'" he said. "Right now, it will be an interesting game because a lot of these kids know each other. But, once we get farther and farther apart, and know each other less and less, I think the rivalry will get more heated.”
Right now, there is no official name or traveling trophy for the rivalry football game. The coaches hope there might be something in the future, but it would have to be decided by the administration and the school board.
Yet, despite the emotions and intensity leading up to Friday night’s game, Nally acknowledged there is a common bond that the whole district—Goddard and Eisenhower—shares: respect for each other.
“We’re going to play hard against each other in any sport,” Nally said. “But, when Goddard is playing someone else, our players want Goddard to win and do well. I’ve never heard one of our players say, ‘I hope Goddard gets beat this week,’ or anything like that—except for this week, of course.“When it comes down to Goddard and Eisenhower, there’s a rivalry. But, when one of us plays another team, I think the players want everyone in the district to be successful.”