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By Mike Moore

Staff Writer

Scott Ashe called it one of his program’s best rivalries.

He also hinted how much of a must win it can almost feel like.

The Napoleon and Columbia Central football teams will kick off the season Friday night, doing so in Week 1 for the fifth year in a row.

For Ashe and his Pirates, figuring out Columbia and starting the season on the right foot is goal No. 1.

“They’ve had our number for a few years now,” Ashe said. Columbia is 31-17 all time against Napoleon and has won seven of the past eight meetings. “It has to happen up front. They’ve been better up front than we have the past few years. That has to change.”

Easier said than done, as Ashe pointed out.

“Columbia is going to be well coached, and they have a good group of athletes,” he said. “That’s a team that comes ready to compete.”

The Golden Eagles were dominant a year ago in the opener, rolling to a 35-0 victory that began what was a 1-3 start to 2015 for Napoleon.

The chance to kick off the season on a high note is something Ashe put mounds of importance on, considering last year’s group was one win away from a potential playoff berth, something the program hasn’t known since 2005.

“It’s everything,” Ashe said about the possibility of starting 1-0. “We thought we had all the pieces last year, and then we have some big injuries going in, some serious injuries to key guys in the preseason. That kind of threw us off. So for us, we have to stay healthy. We’ve tweaked the training program this year, and we’re hoping to see it pay off.”

It goes without saying the Pirates’ offense will have to be better than it was in the shutout last year, but just as key is slowing the Columbia’s running game.

Running back Micah Raby will get the ball plenty for the Golden Eagles.

A year ago he rushed for 1,579 yards and 19 touchdowns on 175 carries.

“He’s one of the best backs I’ve seen in a long time,” Ashe said. “We have to come out fired up and ready to play football. They are going to try and run it on us, and we have to be ready to stop it.”

Friday night’s game is the 49th meeting ever between the programs.

Napoleon has played only four other teams — Vandercook Lake, Michigan Center, East Jackson and Grass Lake — more.

Columbia hasn’t played anyone more than Napoleon.

“The kids are excited. We’re tired of hitting each other,” Ashe said with a laugh. “This is one of our top rivals, and we’re ready to get after it.”

JTV will air the Napoleon-Columbia game Sunday at 1 and 7pm.

Mike Moore is a play-by-play commentator and Sports Writer for JTV Sports. You can reach him at mjm12@albion.edu. He’s also the author of ‘Love, Defined; A Dedication to the Love, Sacrifice, and Magic of Motherhood.’

Love, Defined is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Tate Publishing or by contacting Mike directly.

Visit http://lovedefinedbook.weebly.com for more information.

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