DOVER — Among the first things first-year Pirates head coach Reed Mendoza heard about after taking the job at Dover?
The Rivals Cup.
“I feel like it was the first thing people talked to me about,” he said. “Just how important it is. I love the atmosphere around it. I came from a school that didn’t have a rivalry like this, so it’s fun for me.”
The 45th annual Rivals Cup kicks off tonight at Jack Berry Field. Dover took a 28-0 loss in 2018 but won 24-22 in 2017, 22-14 in 2016 and 57-7 in 2015. The Pirates won 51-20 in 2014.
Atkins last won the rivalry in 2013 (48-35).
Red Devils head coach Tommy Cody said he recognized the importance of the game but didn’t want his team to hang the whole season on it.
“We’ve lost this game and gone on to win 10 games that season,” he said.
It’s Cody’s ninth year to participate in the Rivals Cup.
“For us it’s important,” he said. “But conference is important, too. In the end, it’s just another game, but it is a big deal. As far as the season, it won’t determine how the season will go.”
Also, for Atkins, it’s the second week in a row to face an in-county rival. The Red Devils thumped the Hector Wildcats 45-22 last Friday in a game dubbed by some The Battle on 105, a reference to the highway that connects the two towns.
“That’s a rivalry game too, you could say,” Cody said. “Maybe not to the same scale.”
Nevertheless, the kids have this game circled on the schedule before the season begins. Is it a friendly rivalry? Kind of.
“There’s beef,” said Atkins lineman Cody Robinson. “Mostly during the game, but there’s definitely some beef. We respect they are playing their guts out while we are whipping them. Respect them after the game is over.”
Between the opening kickoff and the final buzzer though? It’s on. Maybe a little before on social media, too.
“There’s always some salt,” said Dover lineman Mitchell Raney. “To me, it’s the most important game of this season and every season.”
With a brand new head coach, Dover is in the middle of a culture change. Winning against the Red Devils is a part of that, said senior wide receiver Kirkland Quinton.
“This is a stepping stone to changing the culture,” he said. “It’s going to be huge. We have a whole different mindset. A whole different philosophy.”
For Atkins quarterback Eli Roberson, a win comes down to one thing: Doing what the Red Devils know they can do.
“We’ve just got to come out and play like Red Devils know how to play,” he said. “It’s been a tradition for a long time. We grew up always wanting to play in this game. It’s a big game, but it’s no reason to be nervous.”
Atkins linebacker and fullback Rylee Bowden expects a close match-up.
“It won’t be the same team that showed up last year,” he said. “They have a new coach. I think it’s going to be close with a lot of hitting. Hoping for a lot of running. It’s either going to be high scoring or low scoring, depending on how things play out. One thing for sure is it’ll definitely be quick paced.”
Pirates senior running back Justice McMinn said the team has been more focused than usual in preparation for tonight.
“Way, way more focus,” he said. “Week by week we focus on the team ahead of us, but there’s a lot of focus here. This game is really important. It means everything to me to win and to my team.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.