10 High School teams compete in second Shenandoah Valley Classic

Once the inaugural Shenandoah Valley Football Classic made its impression last year, administrators, coaches and players all hoped it would become an annual occurrence.

The encore has arrived.

The slightly expanded, tournament-esque event at James Madison's Bridgeforth Stadium kicks off today with two matchups, while a tripleheader will cap off the Classic on Saturday at the home of the defending FCS national champion.

"Getting to play there is a great opportunity for our kids," Spotswood coach Dale Shifflett said, "and I think for the community in general, it's a great opportunity for fans to be able to go out and see other teams that they normally don't get to see play, either. Just all around for our area, it's a great thing."

East Rockingham and Stuarts Draft square off today at 6 p.m. on the Bridgeforth turf, followed by an R.E. Lee-Wilson Memorial tilt slated for an 8:30 p.m. kickoff.

Saturday's jubilee commences with Buffalo Gap-Page County at 2 p.m., followed by a Spotswood-Broadway battle at 4:30 p.m. and a Harrisonburg-Waynesboro showdown at 7 p.m.

"Our kids love going over there and playing," said Harrisonburg coach Chris Thurman, who was a James Madison offensive guard in the early 1990s. "I was thinking, by the time our kids have kids, that'll be someplace they can ride by with their kids and say 'I played there.' It's a neat thing to do and I think it's a great thing. I'm probably more excited to go over there and play than the kids. I just like the whole atmosphere. It's nice."

Last fall's Shenandoah Valley Football Classic featured four games over two days, with one contest on a Friday and three on a Saturday. But the event's planners — a group headed by SHS athletic director Tim Leach — widened the Classic to include a fifth game for this year's edition, as well as moving up the event from mid-October to late September and tweaking kickoff times.

Leach developed the Classic's concept after he relocated a 2015 regular-season game with Turner Ashby to the JMU venue due to heavy rain that rendered SHS's field unplayable.

He brought the idea to other high school athletic directors and in August 2016 they announced the inaugural event, aiming to connect communities and give players the chance to compete in a Division I, 25,000-seat stadium.

Shifflett said his Blazers all talk about wanting to score at Bridgeforth Stadium "because it'll be something they always remember."

"They go to JMU games and I know it won't be as full as a JMU game, but it's still cool to play in that setting," East Rock coach Donnie Coleman said. "For the kids, it's something different, and that scares a head coach sometimes. As a head coach, you like schedule, you like routine. We'll be all right. I imagine once it kicks off, all that excitement will wear off, but it's a chance to get to play in a Division I facility."

While this weekend's event includes five teams that did not play in the 2016 games at Bridgeforth Stadium, TA is among three teams not returning to the venue this year. Rockbridge County, which is lined up to host TA today at 7 p.m., was not willing to surrender a home game to play at JMU instead, Leach said in April.

The five schools that are considered the home teams for this weekend — Stuarts Draft, Wilson Memorial, Page, Broadway and Waynesboro — will share the Classic's revenue evenly, just as four teams did in 2016. The fee to rent Bridgeforth Stadium is the same $500-a-day rate as last year, Leach said this week.

The Classic's ticket revenue last year amounted to $36,071 and expenses brought the collective profit to $26,365.09, Leach said in December. The four home teams took a profit of about $6,590 each, which is more than Leach's estimate of an average regular-season home game reeling in $5,000.

While last year's Classic games were all blowouts — the closest margin of victory was 22 points — this weekend's slate figures to be more competitive.

East Rock (3-2), coming off a 36-8 home rout of Page County, and Draft (3-1) will square off today in a rematch of last year's 2A state quarterfinals.

"You just know it's going to be a dogfight with coach [Nathan] Floyd's bunch," Coleman said. "It always seems to be a great game with East Rock and Stuarts Draft.

"We'll have our hands full, I'm sure, but we'll be there."

Shifflett views Spotswood's late-afternoon tilt with Broadway as one of evenly matched teams in terms of athleticism. His Trailblazers edged Class 5's William Fleming 14-13 in Roanoke last week, while the Gobblers look to rebound from a 42-6 loss at HHS.

"Their kids are playing hard. They don't quit and they don't give up," Shifflett said. "They've been outmatched athletically in some games, just as well as we have in some games, and I think you put 'em on paper with us athletically, we're about the same. It'll come down to who can do what."

The nightcap pits the Valley District's two most athletic teams, Harrisonburg and Waynesboro, against each other on a turf field where that speed may be accelerated a bit.

Waynesboro coasted past TA 42-28 last week at home.

"They're a good football team," Thurman said. "We're gonna have to practice hard and know what we're doing and play well."

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