Brunswick High and Camden County have had a long history on the football field.
Despite the many clashes the teams have had over the years and a convincing 43-27 win against the Wildcats last season, Brunswick High head coach Sean Pender does not consider the game a rivalry for one reason — you’ve got to beat a team on a regular basis to make it a rivalry.
“Brunswick and Camden have played each other quite a lot,” he said. “Camden had beaten us every year since 1999 until last year.”
The Pirates (1-2) host an improved Camden team (3-1) on Friday that is coming off a 33-6 win over Richmond Hill last week. Pender said he attended that game to scout both teams. The Pirates will play Richmond Hill later this season in a Region 2-6A game.
Pender said the game was closer that the final score indicated. Special teams play by the Wildcats was the deciding factor, he said.
“Camden was really solid in all three phases of the game,” he said.
The young Pirates team spent a lot of time during the bye week working on the three phases Pender said his team is still learning.
The first phase, physical conditioning, has been a priority all season.
“We want to get physically stronger,” he said. “We lift five days a week, even on game day.”
The goal is to make the younger players stronger to compete with other teams.
The second phase, the mental game, is intended to teach players they can’t just depend on their athletic ability to win. They need to learn their roles and play as a team.
The third phase, spirit, is what determines the heart of a team. If they have the right mindset, they will become complete players, he said.
The Pirates earned their first win of the season two weeks ago with a 49-7 win over McIntosh Academy. The Pirates established a ground game, running the ball 40 times using seven different players, including three freshmen.
“We wanted to be run heavy,” he said. “Our defense was a lot better.”
There were still too many missed assignments, but Pender said those will get cleaned up as the season progresses.
Sophomore quarterback K.J. Lee had a big game, setting a school record with a 90-yard touchdown pass. He also scored on a 73-yard run against McIntosh.
“He’s had some ups and downs, but he’s getting better,” Pender said.
Junior quarterback Anthony Mountain is also seeing playing time and making an impact when he’s on the field.
“The competition will help both quarterbacks,” he said.
The upcoming game against Camden will be a challenge, but the game is winnable, he said.
“It’s a big challenge,” he said. “It depends on the performance of your team on Friday night.”
Camden head football coach Bob Sphire said his team is growing more confident about its ability to compete this season.
“When you’re building a program, it’s everything,” he said.
Last week’s win against Richmond Hill was especially important for the team’s seniors. It was only the second road win of their playing careers.
“They were wearing that history,” he said.
Reasons for the improvement include better attendance for practices throughout the year, the quality of work players put in the weight room and a dramatic improvement in academics.
Sphire said coaches “aggressively monitor” academics on a daily basis and have mandatory study halls each Thursday for players who need to improve in the classroom.
The players also have a much better understanding of the program in the second year with Sphire as head coach.
“There has been a much firmer grasp of the game in all phases,” he said. “This is an inch-by-inch progression on a daily basis,” he said. ‘We’re still in the overall program building phase.”
Players are more confident before each game, but Sphire said he is concerned some may be overconfident. He said if his team played the same schedule as Brunswick High, his team would probably have the same 1-2 record as Brunswick. He said both of Brunswick’s losses — Coffee County and Bartram Trail — were to “two of the best teams in the Southeast.”
And, if Brunswick played Camden’s schedule, they’d probably have the same 3-1 record, he said.
‘They’re not going to be caught off-guard by our play,” he said. “I’m absolutely worried about this game.”
Though the teams have a long history, Sphire said he’s not sure if it’s a true rivalry game because the they aren’t in the same region or classification.
“If we were in the same region, it would be bigger,” he said.
At the same time, Sphire said he appreciates Glynn County schools agreeing to put Class 7A Camden on their schedules.
“We are very blessed Glynn County has a positive relationship with Camden County,” he said. “They should play every sport. They don’t have to.”
After Friday’s game, the Wildcats will take their first bye week. Sphire said the timing, midway through the season, “falls pretty good” in a schedule where the team plays nine playoff teams from last year.
‘We’ve played some really good teams,” he said. “You can’t fake hard work.”