The Battle of the Lantern has been one-sided since making a comeback in 2015, with Appomattox winning all four meetings.
But fresh off a Week 1 shutout, revamped Rustburg will try to claim the lantern tonight for the first time since 2006. A youthful Appomattox squad, of course, wants to continue its recent dominance in the series.
Here’s how Week 1 looked for Rustburg and Appomattox, which clash at 7 p.m. today at Bragg Stadium:
In Rustburg, coach Jack Baker’s squad put together a strong second half to put away Bassett and win its season opener for the 10th straight year.
In Appomattox, Doug Smith’s Raiders had their hands full with Buckingham and lost a season opener for the first time in five years.
Each coach saw things he liked and others that need improvement.
Tonight’s matchup will be the Raiders home opener and the Red Devils’ first road test.
In some respects, the two programs, roughly 19 miles apart and connected by a section of Virginia 24, will look similar tonight. Both teams feature run-heavy option offenses.
“It’s like playing ourselves,” Smith said of Rustburg’s recently installed offense, “They do run it different than we do, but it’s the same concepts.”
But there are differences. The Red Devils emerged from halftime strong last week, while Appomattox faltered in the second half.
“It could have gone either way,” Baker recalled, “but we came out and played hard in the third quarter and pushed it our way.”
Appomattox trailed Buckingham 7-6 at halftime and was shut out in the second half, with sophomore quarterback Tre Lawing exiting the game early in the third quarter.
Lawing, who Smith said suffered from dehydration last week, will be back on the gridiron tonight.
That means two speedy quarterbacks will duke it out. Rustburg QB Jaidian Johnson led his team with 111 rushing yards on 18 carries last week. Lawing is coming off a freshman season in which he rushed for 766 yards and threw for 713.
Other talented backs also could stress the defenses tonight, including Rustburg’s Tre Tucker and Landon Tucker and Appomattox’s Cristian Ferguson and Keyshawn Baker.
Rustburg is tasked with defending Appomattox’s multiple fronts.
“Offensively they give you their option attack,” Baker said of the Raiders, “and they spread it out and make you defend pretty good athletes in space.”
Appomattox is focused on matching RHS’ physicality and bottling up speedy playmakers.
Appomattox gave up roughly 450 yards of total offense to Buckingham, but Smith said his squad is headed in the right direction after a strong week of practice.
“This is the younger group of the power teams we’ve had,” said Smith, whose teams have won three of the last four Class 2 state titles. “They’ve never really had to depend on each other. They’ve always depended on those older guys. It takes time to realize we’re all we’ve got.
“So we’ve got to depend on each other. It’s not me on an island, it’s all of us, and we can accomplish much together. We don’t have to have a bunch of all-state guys out there to be good. We’ve just got to be one unit.”
The series was once a longstanding one, with the game played every year. But in 2006 the two rivals parted ways. Rustburg and Appomattox didn’t play again until 2015, when The Battle of the Lantern was renewed.
In last year’s game, RHS hung around but gave up a couple big plays, failed to convert on a few key drives and took a 35-7 loss.
Asked whether four straight Lantern losses gives his players any extra resolve, Baker said, “I hope it does. I hope in the back of their minds they feel like we need to make a better showing against Appomattox.
“But none of those games in the past have any impact on the [today’s] game. We need to go out and play consistently and keep making plays.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.