WELCH - Sure its a rivalry game, but Welch head coach Ryan Gleaves is looking at the bottom line: getting the season started on a winning note.
The Wildcats square off against Bluejacket on the road Friday night in the 2012 opener for both teams.
Welch owns a 15-5 edge in the rivalry since the Cats moved to eight-man football in 1980, including a 59-14 victory in last year's meeting.
"This group of (Bluejacket) seniors beat our seniors when they were eighth graders," Gleaves said. "It should be fun."
The teams battled to a 1-1-1 standoff in 11-man competition between 1972 (when Welch resumed football) and 1974.
"We just want to have a good game," Gleaves said. "We want to get the ball rolling. Obviously, its a rivalry game and you want to win, but all-in-all, it doesn't mean anything to us as far as district goes."
That comes Week 2, when Welch faces Rejoice Christian and the Chieftains battle Cherokee. Both were among the preseason picks in their respective districts.
Cherokee is the preseason pick in District C-3 while Rejoice - in its first year of competing in the OSSAA - is tabbed as one of the playoff teams in B-3.
During the 2012 season, the Wildcats finished as runners-up in District B-4, then turned back Wetumka 30-26 for their first victory in the opening round of the playoffs since 2001.
Austin Buchanan’s 11-yard touchdown catch and the conversion run by Alex Smith with eight seconds left helped Welch nail down the win.
They wound up dropping a 38-22 decision to Laverne in the quarterfinals. Laverne was ousted the following week by eventual state champ Caddo.
“We have a lot of kids who are ready for their time to step up and be leaders,” Gleaves said. He's had to plug holes created by the graduation of nine seniors, including four eight-man all-stars: Smith, Buchanan, Jacob Mount and Mike Schultz.
The Wildcats have another eight seniors who are ready to keep the program rolling: Logan Bruce, Cody Triece, Dillon Babb, Chase Nair, Deven Smith, Corbin Giles, Mace Kimrey and Connor Reyes.
“It’s within reach,” Gleaves said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to get back and keep building. We got over the one hump. That is our goal: get back to the second round and give ourselves a shot.”
Bluejacket returns everyone from a team that went 6-4 in 2011 and just missed out on the fourth and final playoff spot in District C-3.
T.K. Francis is back at quarterback while Dylan Anderson returns at tailback.
Francis completed 56 of 83 passes for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also rushed for 143 yards and two scores.
Anderson had 1,581 yards on 134 carries. He scored 17 times. Anderson also had 17 receptions for 305 yards and three scores.
"They have some talent," Gleaves said. "Anderson is pretty good. He (Bluejacket coach Ronnie Simmons) told me this summer if Anderson ever goes down, they are in trouble. But they have more than him."
Simmons has toyed with the idea of using Francis, who is 6-3 and 245 pounds, at center with Charlie Reeves playing quarterback.
"I'm not sure who will be at quarterback," Gleaves said. "They've always had Francis back there some. He (Simmons) said this summer he might have to be at center to make sure he can get the ball to Anderson. I don't know what to expect."