No local football rivalry comes close to the 66 meetings and the other biggest one — Carrollton and Central — isn't even taking place anymore. But the pair of Devils have played every year since 1954, playing twice in the same year five times, and the two will meet up again tonight at the Bremen Athletic Field at 7:30 p.m. in a Region 5-AA rivalry clash.
"It's a special rivalry. I know Carrollton and Central don't play. Villa Rica doesn't play, Mt. Zion, Haralson County plays Central, but I'm talking about the old rivalries — and this is the only one that's still going on. Some of that's changed because of scheduling and some of it's changed because they don't want to play each other. I think it's one of the greatest rivalries in the state," Bremen coach Ricky Tolleson said.
"You've got two schools with a lot of tradition that get to line up against each other on Friday night and play football. We're glad that we have the opportunity to play these rivalry games. That's what we enjoy."
As always, there's community pride on the line, but plenty in the region standings, too.
"Seems like every time we play, there's something on the line — a playoff berth, seeding and all that good stuff. If we win that, we're pretty much guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. In our first year in double-A ball, that would be a lot, especially how young we are in the backfield," Bowdon coach Dwight Hochstetler said. "I think our football squad has done a great job this year."
The Red Devils (7-1, 5-1 Region 5-AA) can solidify a playoff spot with a win this week, while the Blue Devils (4-4, 3-3) are fighting to stay in the postseason picture. Bremen hasn't won two games in a row yet this season, but it hasn't lost two in a row, either. A team usually know for its consistency can't seem to to find its usual level of execution.
"It's been that kind of year. I call it on, off, on, off. I think what's very important about this game is for us to be able to block and tackle and control the tempo of the game. As far as momentum, I just think the most important thing for us is to be who we are and what we practice and believe in. Those traits that have got us where we've been in the past are true for today. That's what we've got to achieve. That consistency of executing what we do. We'll have a series where we'll do well and then have a few series where we don't do well — on both sides of the ball — and that's not us," Tolleson said.
For the past six years, the Blue Devils have controlled the rivalry, winning five out of six meetings, but it was Bowdon which won 25 of the 26 games before that. Last year, Bremen went into the game with the worse record, ended up winning and getting home-field advantage for the playoffs.
Records don't mean a whole lot when the pair of Devils meet on a Friday night.
"We just know that no matter what, it's going to be a hard game — no matter what the records are. We're going to have to go all-out. Against them right now, since my freshman year, we won two games and lost one. This week's practice has been focused and I think we're ready to go out there and play football," Bremen senior lineman Joe Bexley said. "The Bremen-Bowdon game's just always been a big rivalry. And Friday night when we get there, we all hate each other. That's just the way our mindset has to be."
And for players who have had siblings, parents and other relatives play in the game, it's one they don't take lightly.
"Bowdon-Bremen is always something different. You don't see the fans, you don't see the crowd, it's just between the white lines. It's their 11 versus your 11 between the white lines," Bowdon senior linebacker Logan Freeman said. "If I could play one game the rest of my life, this one would be it. I would give up the nine other games to play this one twice."
There are some differences in the teams this season. Tolleson noted the Red Devil offense has been more balanced this year and that even without some of the star players Bowdon has had in the past, it looks better as a team on film in 2012. On the other side, Hochstetler noted that Bremen has been pitching the ball more offensively to go along with a solid attack up the middle from Voltaire Driver, forcing his Red Devil defense to have to play assignment football.
The two teams come into tonight's matchup coming off very different ball games. The Red Devils won their third game in a row in a 61-28 rout of Spencer, while Bremen dropped a 40-12 contest against Manchester. Just like everything else when this game is played, it's hard to tell which game prepared which team for tonight.
"We have improved each week, but to be honest, our opponents the last weeks haven't really been up to par," Hochstetler said. "Sometimes it's good to play an easy team before you play your rival and sometimes it's not. Bremen had a tough game last week against Manchester. I don't know if that's going to help them or hurt them. Meantime, we had an easy game and I don't know if that's going to help or hurt us."
Even though the two teams will go at each other for 48 minutes on the field tonight, there is definitely respect between the two programs, communities, coaching staffs and players.
"No question, a lot of mutual respect. We've had our teams, they've had their teams. As a whole, the kids are the same way. They're going to get after it, but years down the road, they might be neighbors or might be related some way. But they can always go back and remember playing each other in high school athletics," Tolleson said. "A lot of respect, I think, out of both staffs, both communities and the players, too."
Hochstetler added, "I think that's true with the communities, too. Our community respects what they've accomplished there and I think that holds true for the Bremen community, too. I think that filters down to the ball clubs. Our coaching staff has respect for Bremen and I would say they have the same for us. We respect each other, but we know when we play each other, blue versus red, it's going to be a battle. I think because you have that physical type football each team respects each other a lot more."
Even in an age where game films can now be emailed, Tolleson and Hochstetler continue to meet the Saturday before the game for their annual breakfast. This time, it was Tolleson's turn to pay, meaning Hochstetler will pick up the bill next year.
"I tell you what, it means a lot to the communities. This is a game they talk about all year round and that's the reason this game is so special. The communities get involved, they participate in it and Friday night they go back and forth. It's what high school should be about on Friday nights," Hochstetler said.