BOTETOURT – New time, new season, same rivalry. The football season will kick off tonight when Lord Botetourt plays host to James River in the annual intra-county game.

This year’s game will begin at 7 p.m., moving up a half-hour from recent years. Most of the local districts, except for the River Ridge, will go with 7 p.m. start times as more high school teams have gone to pass-oriented attacks and the games have run longer.

“I don’t care if we play at two o’clock in the afternoon, we’re just ready to play,” said LB coach Tater Benson.

Both teams wrapped up their scrimmage seasons last week. Botetourt scrimmaged at Tunstall last Friday and it was a defensive battle, as neither team scored in the first 30 plays. Finally Botetourt’s Conner Bronson broke loose for a 40-yard TD run and LB ended up winning on the scoreboard, 10-3.

“They never moved the ball on us,” said Benson, who has taken over the defense himself this year. “We still have some things to work on, but overall I was pleased with the defense.”

James River played a benefit game at Narrows and looked impressive. The first three quarters were played under game conditions and River outscored the Green Wave 37-6 during that time.

This Friday’s game will be the fourth since the rivalry was renewed in 2007. The county schools used to play every year, for The Fincastle Herald trophy, but the game was discontinued after the 1999 season. It was renewed as a scrimmage “benefit game” a few years later, and in 2007 it was back on the schedule as a regular game.

Botetourt has won the game in each of the past three years. The Cavs won 36-7 in 2007, 24-7 in ’08, and 21-6 last year. This season, with James River returning 16 starters, it figures to be a good game.

“A lot of people are saying this is the year to get us if they’re going to get us,” said Benson. “The whole story of this game is their senior-dominated team against our young kids. It the old guys against the young guys.

“We know we’ll get their best effort,” he continued. “This is like the Super Bowl to them.”

River coach Philip King used to dread this matchup, but he’s come to accept it.

“I used to try and downplay this game but they know better than that,” he said. “It would be a tremendous boost to our kids if we could win this game, but if we don’t it’s not the end of the season. There’s a lot more pressure on them, they’re the Group AA school.”

Everyone in the Blue Ridge and Pioneer Districts open this Friday. In the BRD, Covington is at Alleghany in another intra-county brawl, William Byrd is at Rustburg, Staunton River is at Cave Spring, and defending Division 3 state champion Northside is home to Jefferson Forest to open the season.

In the Pioneer District, Eastern Montgomery is at Bath County, Auburn is at Craig County, Parry McCluer hosts Randolph-Henry, and, as mentioned, Covington goes to Alleghany.

Don’t miss a preview of the James River and Lord Botetourt teams in a special section included in this week’s Fincastle Herald.