The only job more difficult than preparing for a state-ranked rival is being the administrators in charge of traffic and security for what likely will be one of the largest crowds to watch a high school football game in Hamilton County.
"As tough as my job is having to figure out a way to slow them down, I'd rather do that than deal with everything that goes with having as many people as we're expecting here," Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan said.
The Owls host neighborhood rival East Hamilton tonight in a Class 5A second-round playoff game between two state-ranked teams with identical 9-2 records. Kickoff is at 7, but school administrators advise fans to plan on arriving at least an hour early because of a lack of seats and parking. Making matters tougher, there is only one road leading onto and off campus.
Bryan estimated the stadium seats around 5,000 people but said the crowd was more than 7,000 when the teams played in week five of the regular season.
"A lot of people will wind up just having to stand wherever they can to watch," Bryan said. "We'll have about double the security because of the crowd, but really all you can do is try to get there as early as possible."
Even though the rivalry is still in its toddler stage, in only two years East Hamilton versus Ooltewah in football is already one of the city's must-see games. Parked cars spilled off campus and lined both sides of Mountain View Road for the regular-season game. Some fans even had to park at the Publix, nearly a mile from campus, and walk in.
And tonight's second "Battle of White Oak Mountain" this season promises plenty of emotion and offensive fireworks, because both teams have high-scoring attacks. Ooltewah is ranked No. 7 in the state and East Hamilton is one spot behind, having lost 28-26 to the Owls in the regular-season meeting.
"Rivalry games are what make high school football special," Bryan said. "I told our kids to just enjoy the moment and being on the stage. That's what you play the game for, so just have fun with it."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.