Flashes square off against rivals

Published 12:01 pm Friday, August 19, 2011

While breaking down tonight’s season-opener against Madison-St. Joseph, it’s easy to see St. Aloysius coach B.J. Smithhart is having fun.

A playful jab here and there is followed by a premature description of the Flashes’ victory celebration. Nothing is mean-spirited, just the stuff of a good, fun high school rivalry.

St. Al and St. Joe will hook up tonight at Balzli Field in the latest edition of their long-standing Catholic School rivalry. The victor will take home bragging rights and the Strauss Stallings Trophy, just as they’ve done since their first meeting in 1952.

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“They’ll have the trophy on the sideline on a table. You can bet if we win, the first thing we’re going to do is run and get it. And they’ll probably do the same,” Smithhart said. “That’s what high school sports is all about. If you’re not having fun with it, what’s the point?”

This will be the fifth meeting between St. Al and St. Joe since the rivalry was rekindled in 2007 after a six-year hiatus. St. Al leads the all-time series 31-17, but St. Joe won last year’s matchup in Madison, 21-6, and the teams have split their four most recent games against each other.

Partly because of the back-and-forth nature of the series, and partly from an increased emphasis placed on the game by both coaching staffs, the game has gained extra importance to both sides.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” St. Joe coach Flip Godfrey said. “Vicksburg and Madison are close, we play each other in middle school all the time, so the kids get to know each other.”

Both teams are also getting to know themselves. Although this matchup has a familiar feel, it’s still the first game of the season and both teams are working out the usual kinks.

St. Al has 18 freshmen or sophomores on its 26-man varsity roster. Some played last season, but for many it will be their first time in a high school game.

“Just like all the teams in the state, we’ve got a long way to go,” Smithhart said. “We still have a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of football. We’re still trying to instill that toughness and the things that go with it.”

St. Joe is a little more seasoned, with 14 seniors returning from last year’s squad that went 7-5 and reached the Class 2A playoffs. The Bruins haven’t seen any live action this summer, however, so Godfrey was unsure how they’ll hold up over four quarters.

“We haven’t played in a jamboree or anything like that, so we have question marks,” Godfrey said. “Especially going four quarters. We haven’t even gone a full quarter. We have to worry about sloppiness and things like that.”