By Kevin Posival and Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
The 33rd meeting between the Killeen Independent School District's first two high schools is the only game in town.
While the rivalry has lost some luster, it had as recently as 2005, it's still a doozy, especially being the first game of the season for both teams.
The Killeen-Ellison game may be the only game at Leo Buckley Stadium, but it's not the only big Week 0 game this weekend and may not even be the biggest among the area teams.
Belton and Harker Heights are both opening their seasons in the Texas Football Classic in San Antonio at the Alamodome. The Tigers play defending Division II-5A state champion and second-ranked Abilene tonight at 7:30 p.m. and the Knights' play Georgetown on Saturday.
Copperas Cove hosts seven-time 5A state champion Southlake Carroll and Gatesville hosts Class 3A No. 1 Brownwood, also a seven-time champion.
This year marks the fifth straight season the Roos and Eagles have met in their season-openers, three of which Ellison has won, including the last two.
"Definitely, it'll be a game of emotions because we're the first two high schools in Killeen," said Killeen coach Sam Jones, who's Roos lead the all-time series 16-15-1. "I think you've got two talented teams. I think their senior class and our senior class have great leaders in both. It's just a rivalry that goes way back."
Ellison coach Buddy McBryde agrees with Jones.
"It's a good way to start off the season for both schools and kick off the football season in Killeen," he said. "It gets you off and running right away and it worked out best for our scheduling and Killeen High's scheduling because Killeen High is going to go ahead and play Shoemaker and Harker Heights in their non-district scheudule, as well."
Killeen may have lost the last two meetings to Ellison, but it's been the Roos that have made the playoffs the last two seasons.
"I think what this game brings, especially with a team like Ellison, is how physical they are and it just kind of gets us ready," said Jones. "It's a great preseason game for us to get ready for a real, real tough district."
The game has almost always been a jumping-off point of sorts. When the two shared a district, they met six times in district openers and 12 times in season finales, the last of which - 2005 - Ellison beat Killeen to clinch a playoff berth and eliminate the Roos.
"We know each other pretty good. We know their players pretty good, they know ours pretty good," McBryde said. "Coach Jones and his staff do a good job and we have a pretty good idea of what they're going to run offensively and defensively and they do the same for us."
Copperas Cove hasn't a lost a season-opener in almost 20 years, but they'll be tested by the Dragons, who've reached the playoffs the last 10 years and have four 5A state championships in five trips to the finals from 2002-06.
"It prepares your football team for playoff-type atmosphere, top-quality talent and well-coached coaching staffs," said Cove coach Jack Welch. "Your talking about some of the best coaching staffs in the state. So you're going to have to be prepared when you play those folks. You can't get by by the skin of your teeth. You can't go out there and just wing it."
Said Carroll coach Hal Wasson: "It's a good barometer. If you don't play good people, you don't get better. We know we're playing a very, very good football team and it will be a test for us right out of the gate."
Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper agreed, as his Hornets are fresh off their first playoff appearance in seven years. Part of building Gatesville back to a perennial contender, Cooper said, is playing teams like Brownwood.
"Obviously you get a chance to see where you're at," Cooper said. "It's a great football team, a great football program and so it's just an opportunity to get a measuring stick early. We're trying to sell a rising expectation within our program, so we wanted to go get a good game right out of the box and this is the one that was available."