Most non-region games do not carry the same significance as the league tilts. That’s not necessarily the case when Riverdale travels to Smyrna on September 24.
No longer in the same league, these two historical high school football heavyweights will be meeting on the field for the third consecutive season. Having split the last two meetings with each winning at home, this 2021 head-knocker has the makings of another classic showdown. Things are a little different than perhaps in days of old as region standings are not at stake, but rest assured, there are more than just local bragging rights on the line.
Rutherford County has been rich in football tradition in modern times. Each of these schools has taken their turn at the top. Riverdale enjoyed a momentous march to gridiron glory under the guidance of Gary Rankin. Between 1993 and 2004, the Warriors played in the state championship game an incredible nine times, winning on four (1994, 1997, 2001, 2004) occasions.
Smyrna’s time as top Dog in the state began in 2006. After falling 49-0 to the Warriors in the regular season, Bulldog head coach Philip Shadowens enjoyed perhaps the biggest win in school history when his underDogs defeated Riverdale 9-7 in the state playoff quarterfinals. Breaking a 17 game losing streak against their rivals from Murfreesboro, Smyrna went on to claim their first state title. A repeat in 2007 made the Bulldogs the first public school to win back to back titles in the states highest classification. A runner-up finish in 2010 meant the Bulldogs were one of the final two in the playoffs three times in five seasons.
Times have changed, the number of Rutherford county high schools have grown, and these two storied programs are trying to get back to the top. Each has been playoff participants in most seasons since their reign, but just making the post-season is not exactly what they are looking for.
For Riverdale, the biggest stumbling block has been their oldest rival Oakland. The Patriots have been enjoying their time at the top as two recent titles (2018, 2020) gives them one more than the Warriors overall. Talented playmakers like quarterback Jameson Holcomb and running back Marcus Lloyd have helped Riverdale remain unbeaten (5-0) in 2021. Middle linebacker Alexander Mitchell has keyed a defense that once more invokes a fear the spear mentality. Before the battle of the ‘Boro, these Warriors hope to find a way to leash the Bulldogs.
For Smyrna, their biggest challenge has been the creation of new schools. With Stewart’s Creek also in the city limits, the talent pool has been divided. A restructuring of regions has steered them away from the Murfreesboro powerhouses, but when it is playoff time and the Bulldogs have faced schools from Williamson County, they have been unable to sink their teeth into a post-season run. An unbeaten record on the field in 2021 (4-0) and game breakers like Landon Miller, Arion Carter, and Jeremiah Bailey has the purple and gold flags flying high. The game with Riverdale makes for a measuring stick of sorts for Smyrna. If a trip to the big dance floor is in the future, whipping the Warriors is a good place to begin.
Given all the implications, this promises to be a good, old-fashioned Southern slobber-knocker. Kickoff is slated for 7 pm at Robert Raikes Stadium on the campus of Smyrna high school.