All last week, people stopped by E.C. Glass High School to purchase presale tickets for the big football game between the Hilltoppers and Heritage, creating a stream so steady that Glass athletic director Elizabeth Masencup had trouble finding time to fulfill her regular duties.
There also was a buzz around town. Two old rivals, among the best teams in the state, were slated for battle in what was billed as an unprecedented Jug Bowl matchup.
Then on Friday, people left work early. They piled into cars, arrived at Lynchburg City Stadium two hours ahead of kickoff, and tailgated. Some took the night off from their late-shift jobs. And still others drove from an hour away to help fill the stands, where roughly 4,500 people took in the action.
They were loud, they were proud, and they got to see a beauty.
By the time Heritage’s offense banded together to push running back KJ Vaughan into the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave the Pioneers a 15-14 victory, everyone had gotten their money’s worth. Glass and Heritage had treated the crowd to a nail-biting overtime thriller that lived up to its billing.
“This game is special,” Heritage coach Brad Bradley said as the crowd thinned out.
It certainly was. There are enough Glass-Heritage stories to fill a book, and the latest chapter wasn’t just thrilling, it might be the best.
Beyond the bragging and the right to keep the little brown jug, Friday’s game had playoff implications.
With the victory, Heritage (8-1) leapfrogged Spotswood for the No. 1 spot in Region 3C. Should the Pioneers hold on to that position by defeating third-ranked Liberty Christian this week, they’ll be guaranteed home-field advantage all the way through the Class 3 playoffs.
The loss sent Glass (8-1) down one spot in Region 4D, to third, where it now sits behind No. 1 Salem and No. 2 Pulaski. If the playoffs began today, the Hilltoppers would be guaranteed a first-round home game, but not of anything at City Stadium beyond that. Glass’ position in the VHSL rankings could change after this week’s regular-season finale.
Imagine if the 2019 Jug Bowl — with its playoff implications, top-tier athletes and massive crowd — was this special every year. What would that take?
“Wins,” Glass coach Jeff Woody said, “bottom line. If we win and they win, then there’s gonna be a lot of people at that game. And it’s about time that this game became huge. The reason is that both teams are top notch. Both teams are playing great football and producing great athletes that have college scholarships. So we have to continue playing with great quality.”
A lot of that quality depends on athletes rising through the ranks. Glass’ JV squad, Woody said, has been “up and down,” partly because the varsity coach barrows players from it in much the way a minor league baseball team is subject to its parent affiliate. Woody believes a good corps group will emerge from Lynchburg City Schools’ eighth grades; from Dunbar Middle (which feeds into both Heritage and Glass) Linkhorne Middle (Glass) and Sandusky Middle (Heritage).
Heritage’s JV squad looks strong; it is 9-0 and defeated Glass on Monday night 41-7.
For Bradley, attracting the type of attention the two teams received last week is about more than just wins.
“It’s all about the process,” he said. “It’s not about what you do week in and week out. It’s about what you do January through July that determines how you perform August through December. For us, sometimes that has nothing to do with football. It’s about community service hours, weight room commitment, and the accountability. Our guys know they can’t get in trouble in school, their grades can’t fall if they want to be a part of Heritage football.”
Masencup said Glass sold roughly 3,500 tickets for last week’s game. About 1,000 came from presales during the week. Volunteers at the City Stadium gates used clickers to track the number of fans entering with free passes, which accounted for an additional 800 to 1,000 attendees. Lynchburg City Schools also provided a live feed of the game on YouTube.
The amount of presale tickets sold, Masencup said, “blew my mind. All week long I actually couldn’t get my work done because it was a nonstop revolving door.”
The other games, Glass might sell a maximum of 2,000 tickets, Masencup said. Sometimes, games aren’t well attended at all. For instance, at the school’s home game against Liberty on Oct. 18, just 669 tickets were purchased.
But on Friday, the school — since it was technically the home team this year at the stadium both schools share — raked in enough money to fund the football program for the entire year.
“It’s a $20,000 a year sport, just to fund it,” Masencup said.
Just like at Heritage, the two highest grossing sports at Glass are football and basketball. Ticket sales from those sports can help fund other athletic programs that are not well attended.