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Excitement surrounds Mandarin-Atlantic Coast rivalry game

Mustangs, Stingrays kick off football season with battle for Principal's Cup

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's not just the first game of the season. It's not just the first Jacksonville high school football game to be televised live in high definition. It's not just a prime-time kickoff. 

It's a rivalry game. 

That's why extraordinary excitement and energy at both Mandarin High School and Atlantic Coast High School was growing throughout the week leading up to the Bold City Showdown, airing live Thursday night on Channel 4 and simulcast on 1010 XL. 

The Stingrays host the Mustangs in the battle for the Principal's Cup, a trophy that symbolized tradition and rivalry seven years in the making. 

Back In 2011, Mandarin High was split into two schools and Atlantic Coast was born. Friends and classmates were divided, depending on where they lived. With that divide, a friendly rivalry was born, along with the tradition of winning the Principal's Cup.

In the last seven meetings, Mandarin has won the trophy four times, including the last three years. More than half of the seven games were decided by eight points or fewer -- making the matchup even more competitive for players. 

Smack talk 

For the players, in addition to having bragging rights going forward, part of the fun of the rivalry game was the smack talk leading up to the 7:15 p.m. kickoff.

"I'm looking forward to having the win, beating those boys," Atlantic Coast senior Rayshad Jossey said. "They've been talking a lot of smack and so I wanna go and handle business."

“It’s like constantly they are in group chats, talking .. about us, trying to see how they are going to beat us," Mandarin senior Terrell Jennings said. "It’s crazy, real crazy”

Players on both teams said back-and-forth jabs were all in good fun.

"It's AC hate week. So the Twitter is definitely blowing up with all the memes," Mandarin senior Kasimir Absolu said. "This (is a) rivalry just because a lot of us went to middle school together. So it's just, we were all friends at one point. We all just got separated by schools, so it’s a good rivalry."

"I just want to win," Atlantic Coast senior Jordan Singletary said.

In the end, the Mustangs and the Stingrays know they'll have to back up that talk when they come face to face on the football field. 

Pregame rituals

The Mandarin and Atlantic Coast football players spent the hours leading up to the game getting in the zone.

When they take the field, they'll be on different sides of the ball. But before they took to the gridiron, many players had similar pregame rituals. 

"We got the headphones. Everybody is just ready to rock and roll," Atlantic Coast senior Jamoni Hill said. "You got mean faces going so that’s how it is”

"I have headphones in. I'm to myself, quiet," Mandarin senior Johnny Rego said. "Then when the game starts, it's wild. Everyone goes crazy."

As for what kind of music, "that's classified," Mandarin junior Carson Beck said, laughing. 

"Lots of music," he said. "(I) kind of just put the headphones in and listen."

Some forego the superstitions and leave it all up to pregame preparation. 

"I just go in and do my job and play my part so we can get the win," Jossey said.

"I kind of like to find a quiet place," Mandarin senior Michael Shimko said. "I like to sit and just focus and realize how much of a good opportunity it is to play and thank God for my ability."

Pep rallies

Both schools on Thursday held pep rallies, which only built up the hype for the rivalry game.  

At Mandarin, students were pumped up before they headed to nearby Atlantic Coast to watch the game.

"It's hype," Mandarin junior Ty Jackson said. "I love it."

Students packed the Mandarin High School gym Thursday morning to help energize the football players before they took the field. 

"Beat AC! Beat AC!" the crowd cheered.

To get the student body in the game day spirit, the band brought the energy while the cheerleaders provided the pep.

“We’ll stomp the Rays any day or night, twice on Sundays," Mandarin senior Parker Blessing said.

Players eager to take the field, laid roses by a gravestone reading, "RIP AC" as they embraced the atmosphere. 

“It’s kinda hard to put it into words," Absolu said. "It gives you energy, it’s kind of a morale booster honestly." 

The players hoped to use that extra energy to bring the Principal's Cup back to Mandarin after the game. 

At nearby Atlantic Coast, students donned in school colors gathered for a pep rally Thursday afternoon. 

The band played "stand tunes" to get their fellow classmates on their feet and cheering.

"Everyone was going crazy," Atlantic Coast senior and band captain Tori Robinson said. "It was great. We have been working on those songs for a while."

About the Authors:

Jacksonville native and proud University of Florida graduate who joined News4Jax in March 2016.

Florida-born multi-media journalist pays special attention to issues in St. Johns County.