Battle of the Woods

For the first three decades of Brentwood’s existence, its biggest rival was Franklin.

Then things started to change as the Bruins’ new archrival gradually became their crosstown rival, Ravenwood. 

The rivalry with Franklin is still big, but the Battle of the Woods has become the game for Ravenwood and Brentwood.

One of the most anticipated games in the 17-year-old series will be Friday night when Ravenwood (11-1) visits Brentwood (10-2) in a Class 6A quarterfinal.

“My first tenure here from 2002-11, Franklin and (Brentwood) played 16 times,” said Brentwood coach Ron Crawford, who led the Bruins to a Class 5A title in his first season.

Former Brentwood principal James Parker, who has attended every Bruins football game in school history – all 438 of them – believes the schools’ proximity made it inevitable that the Battle of the Woods would become such a big rivalry.

“When they built Ravenwood, the talk around town was would Franklin still be the rivalry game in any sport or would Ravenwood pick that up,” Parker said. “My opinion was that Ravenwood would pick it up and so I was correct. Franklin has become just another ballgame.”  

Brentwood opened in 1982 and Ravenwood followed in 2002, so it took a while for the rivalry to intensify.

“I guess we’re, what, eight miles apart,” Crawford said. “These kids grow up playing Little League baseball, Blaze football, rec basketball. The kids all know each other.”

Concord Road is one of the dividing lines between the rivals. In most cases, students who live north of the road are zoned for Brentwood and south for Ravenwood.

“I think it’s always a better rivalry when the teams have performed and done a good job leading up to the game, and that’s exactly what’s happened this year,” Ravenwood coach Matt Daniels said. “You’ve got an 11-win team and a 10-win team matching up. As rivals, it just brings more fuel to the fire.”

Will Hester has a unique perspective on the rivalry, having coached at each school for three years. The former Brentwood lineman was an assistant coach at Brentwood from 2010-12 before becoming Ravenwood’s head coach from 2013-15.

He went 38-4 with the Raptors, including a Class 6A state title in his final season. His success intensified the rivalry between the new school on the southeast side of town and the old school on the northwest.

“All these kids have grown up together,” said Hester, who coaches Florence, Ala., now. “Some of them went to the same elementary schools before they moved across town. A lot of these guys co-exist at their churches.”

Hester’s favorite Battle of the Woods memory was when the Raptors blocked a long field goal attempt at the end of a 22-21 win during his first season as Ravenwood’s coach in 2013.

He was on the winning side all six years that he coached the rivals.

Brentwood leads the series 10-9, but neither team has ever won more than three straight.

Friday will be the third quarterfinal matchup between the two schools with Ravenwood winning in 2005 and last year.

Back in September, Brentwood beat Ravenwood 25-14 at BHS as Thomas Day kicked four field goals.

“That’s the only team that we’ve lost to this year and we don’t want that to happen again,” Raptors quarterback Brian Garcia said. “We had a senior meeting and then a team meeting (after the loss), talking about ways we can get better and things we can’t do to be a state-championship caliber team.”

Ravenwood has won seven straight, including three shutouts, since then.

The Raptors entered the first game as the favorite, bolstered by a lineup loaded with major-college prospects, including pass rusher Reggie Grimes II, the state’s top-ranked prospect by 24/7 Sports. 

“Obviously, everyone was talking about they’re the best team in the state, how they have all these five, four stars and we just wanted to shut everyone up,” said linebacker Xiere Howard, the Bruins’ leading tackler with over 100. “Even though we beat them in the regular season, I feel like everyone is still counting us out. They haven’t allowed a point in the playoffs, so everyone is counting us out now. But we’re hopefully going to shut everyone up once more.”

An overflow crowd is expected, but rain is in the forecast.  

Daniels has two wins in the rivalry, including a 31-23 upset at Brentwood during his first season as coach in 2017.

“We were kind of the underdogs and we ended up winning or sealing the victory on a blocked field goal that we returned for a touchdown,” said Daniels, who also coached the Raptors to last year’s quarterfinal win.

Crawford’s most disappointing loss in the series came in the second Battle of the Woods when the Bruins suffered their first defeat, 27-17, to the Raptors during the 2004 regular season.

“They beat us over there and I didn’t like the way we reacted,” Crawford said. “We lost our composure, a couple of cheap shots that we did that I had to have players literally call their coach and apologize.”

Ever since then, Crawford has tried to make sure the emotions of the rivalry don’t go overboard.

“I hope the teams will handle themselves with dignity, humility, poise and play this thing extremely hard between the lines and play it the right way,” Crawford said.

Battle of the Woods 

Brentwood leads series 10-9

2003

Brentwood 45, Ravenwood 6

2004

Ravenwood 27, Brentwood 17

Class 5A second round

Brentwood 30, Ravenwood 20

2005

Ravenwood 14, Brentwood 7

5A quarterfinal

Ravenwood 17, Brentwood 6

2006

Brentwood 19, Ravenwood 16

2007

Brentwood 7, Ravenwood 6

2008

Ravenwood 17, Brentwood 14

2009

Brentwood 35, Ravenwood 7

2010

Brentwood 27, Ravenwood 7

2011

Brentwood 41, Ravenwood 0

2012

Brentwood 38, Ravenwood 0

2013

Ravenwood 22, Brentwood 21

2014

Ravenwood 38, Brentwood 7

2015

Ravenwood 31, Brentwood 17

2016

Brentwood 41, Ravenwood 10

2017

Ravenwood 31, Brentwood 23

2018

Brentwood 31, Ravenwood 28

6A quarterfinal

Ravenwood 47, Brentwood 24

2019

Brentwood 25, Ravenwood 14

Contact Chip Cirillo at chipc11@yahoo.com.

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