TEXAS CITY

Without question there will be plenty of familiarity when the Hitchcock Bulldogs and La Marque Cougars meet, but will that breed contempt, create a fun-natured atmosphere or something in between in tonight’s rivalry game?

“A lot of them grew up playing together,” Hitchcock head coach Craig Smith said. “A lot of the guys over there played in our little league Hitchcock Red Raiders. So, (La Marque running back) Perry (Preston) grew up playing with our guys like Pacey (Jones), Tyger (Turner) and a bunch of our kids.”

Both schools have a long history and are located less than 5 miles apart, but never played each other until La Marque’s numbers dropped to the Class 3A level in 2016 and the Cougars got placed into a district with Hitchcock. Now, La Marque is back at Class 4A, but the two schools chose to keep the rivalry game going in non-district play this season.

“When you get these two neighboring schools together, it doesn’t matter what their size is,” La Marque head coach Shone Evans said. “We’re going to get their best shot, and we’re going to give our best shot.”

Indeed, the new, brief rivalry has proven to be a highly competitive one with an old-school, defensive-minded feel to it. Just one point separates the teams in their two games combined — Hitchcock won, 8-7, last year, and La Marque won, 12-10, in 2016.

“I think they look forward to it,” Smith said. “More or less, they just love to have a district or non-district game that’s right here in our own backyard instead of traveling halfway across south Texas or east Texas to get to a district game.”

La Marque is off to a tough 0-2 start to the 2018 season, but players have been enthusiastically working in practice to improve their conditioning, Evans said.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all, because when you’re tired you go from what you’re coached to do to the easiest path,” Evans said.

And conditioning will be key as the Cougars try to contain Hitchcock’s (1-1) smash-mouth running attack led by running backs Tyger Turner and Deonza McCardell.

“They’re a very physical football team,” Evans said. “It’s probably going to be a short game because we both run the ball a lot. They’re very good at what they do. They will expose you if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and we’ve got to play our game. We’ve got to play assignment football, and we’ve got to be disciplined on offense and defense.”

With top-notch running backs Perry Preston and Norvan Saldana in tow, La Marque also will look to pound the rock on the ground, but will go about it by spreading the field, as opposed to the Bulldogs’ compact slot-T misdirection running system.

“We’re going to have to be able to run the ball well and do a good job of tackling,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to wrap up and fly to the ball.”

Kickoff for the La Marque-Hitchcock game is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Texas City’s Stingaree Stadium.

James LaCombe: 409-683-5242, james.lacombe@galvnews.com or on Twitter @JamesAtGalvNews

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