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The Brawl#8217; for it all By Thadd White 10/31/2007 AHOSKIE – They approach this game from vastly different perspectives. Tony Hoggard has been part of the rivalry known as the Backyard Brawl since h

AHOSKIE – They approach this game from vastly different perspectives.

Tony Hoggard has been part of the rivalry known as the Backyard Brawl since he entered Bertie High School more than two decades ago. Diego Hasty, despite 30 years in the coaching business, will get his first taste when Hertford County hosts Bertie Friday night with the Northeastern Coastal Conference championship on the line.

What both of them do know is that Friday holds the proverbial “keys to the kingdom.”

The Falcons enter Friday night’s contest holding most of the cards. They come in 5-0 in the Northeastern Coastal Conference and in first place in the league. HCHS will start the matchup 4-1 in the conference and needing a win to share the conference crown.

“I think already having clinched a share of the championship adds pressure for us,” Hoggard said. “I don’t want to share any title. Call me selfish, but I want to win it outright.”

The win in Friday’s rivalry matchup earns the victor not only bragging rights, but the highest seed from the conference in the upcoming state playoffs, a fact that both coaches know all too well.

“I try to prepare my kids every week,” Hasty said. “The Bertie game is important, but last week was important. Our focus has to be getting ready for the playoffs and having a chance to host a playoff game.”

Hoggard also stressed the importance of a top seed.

“We have to focus on the conference first and secondly the state playoffs,” he stated. “We want the best possible seed. That’s the reason I’m probably putting a little more focus on this game.”

Both coaches said they were aware of the extra fanfare that traditionally comes with the Falcon-Bear contest, but they are working on getting their team ready for a game, one that isn’t played in the bleachers.

“We’re trying to get all of our stuff together,” Hasty said. “We know Bertie is an explosive team with the way they’ve been scoring points.

“They can throw it. They can run it. They have a total team,” he added.

Hoggard said he was focused on continuing to see his team get better.

“We’re still improving,” he said. “We are still not there yet. We still have places where we’re making mistakes that we should have resolved by now.”

Both teams have put up impressive wins thus far this season. Hertford County beat 3-A power Parkland, rolled over Currituck and easily handled Northampton-East and Northern Nash.

The Falcons, meanwhile, steam-rolled South Central before doing the same to Northeastern, Edenton and First Flight.

Bertie had an open week last Friday and enjoyed two weeks to prepare for HCHS. Both coaches said that could make a difference.

“They’ve had an extra week off so they should be rested,” Hasty said. “It can work for you and against you, but it gave them two weeks to prepare for us, so that could make a difference.”

Hoggard said he wasn’t happy about being off last week, but was pleased with being able to work on getting some injured players healthy and having the two weeks to prepare.

“It can be a plus for us in the terms of getting some guys over injuries and working on fundamentals,” he indicated.

The injuries that have been problems for both teams this season have subsided as the programs ready for this annual clash.

Both Hoggard and Hasty reported their teams were pretty healthy.

“We have some ankles, shoulders, bumps and bruises, but nothing too bad,” Hasty said. “They’re typical football injuries.”

Hoggard concurred.

“We’re almost 100 percent healthy,” he said. “We have some minor injuries, but they are the types you have to play through,” he said.

Both coaches know about the history of the rivalry, even though Hasty’s first experience with it won’t come until Friday.

“This will be my first experience,” Hasty said. “I’ve been in rivalry games in the past, but everyone tells me this one is different. I won’t know until I experience it for myself.”

Hoggard said he is glad to have been part of the game for so many years.

“I don’t think it hurts me to have experienced it so many times,” he said. “I think being used to the atmosphere is good. The atmosphere alone is a distraction if you let it be.”

Both coaches said they would be aware of the significance of the rivalry, but most of it was for the fans to enjoy.

“I let the fans and everyone have their fun, but the game is what is important to us,” Hasty said. “We have to remember what we’re trying to do is get ready for the playoffs.”

Both coaches have history in the playoffs as well, so they understand the “playoff atmosphere” of the game. Hoggard was an assistant coach on two state championship teams at Bertie and Hasty led the Northampton County High School n West Hurricanes to the 2005 state championship contest.

All the fun and the talking that go on between the rival schools will come down to one 48-minute contest. That game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Ahoskie.