steve.carter@gaflnews.com



OCILLA -- When Auburn and Georgia played each other last week in Athens, it was the 105th meeting between the schools.

While the Irwin County Indians and the Fitzgerald High Purple Hurricanes do not go that far back, the two communities first met each other on the football field in 1922. The rivalry will continue tonight as the teams meet for the 48th straight year.

The series has been around for so long there are two phases to the meetings.

Irwin County High was formed after a merger of Ocilla High School and Irwinville High School before the 1952 school year. The "new" Irwin County High began a continuous series with its neighbors to the north in 1954 and Fitzgerald leads that all-time series, 29-16-2.

However, Ocilla High and Fitzgerald High met each other 12 times before there was an Irwin County High. The first one of those meetings was in 1922 and saw the then Ocilla High Terrapins fall 64-0. Factoring in these game gives Fitzgerald a 36-21-2 advantage over Ocilla High/Irwin County.

With tonight being the 60th time the two communities have met on the football field, there is a big reason to expect a standing room only crowd tonight at Jaycee Stadium.

Adding to the atmosphere tonight is the fact that the communities have had an extra week to stew for this game. Originally scheduled for Sept. 14, the contest was moved to tonight as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

It is not the first time there has been an unusual meeting between the schools.

In 1993, Fitzgerald was doing remodeling work on Jaycee Stadium. So instead of giving Irwin three home games in a row, the Purple Hurricanes moved the game to Tifton.

Adding to the situation was the fact the Purple Hurricanes won the game on the scoreboard, 43-7. However, Fitzgerald was ruled to have played an ineligible player, which technically gave Irwin the win.

Even with that, both schools still count it on the Fitzgerald side. "You don't lose a game by that score due to one player," several Irwin coaches said at the time.

With this year's circumstances, each school will be playing its oldest rival a week before entering the state playoffs. Right now, it appears the Indians will travel to Blakely to play the Early County Bobcats, while Fitzgerald will host Effingham County in a rematch of an opening round playoff game from last season.

"It is not the greatest timing in the world, but it is out of our hands so we are going to make the best of it," Fitzgerald head coach Robby Pruitt said.

Even with the circumstances, both Pruitt and Irwin head coach Jute Wilson will not be pulling any punches with their respective teams.

"We are going to treat this just as we would any other regular season game," Pruitt said.

Wilson, who will be experiencing his first game in the series, added, "a lot of schools wanted to cancel games this week or just play their B-teams, if the game did not matter. But, we are going to play it straight."

Irwin will be at a disadvantage, as eight starters will be missing.

"We had to dismiss a few players and suspend a few due to some discipline problems," Wilson said. "It is just part of first-year growing pains. The good thing about it is the kids who were suspended realized their mistakes and have been repentant about it."

"We are going to make the best of it and see what some of the other kids can do."

Game time will be 8 p.m.



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