The Northwest Classic: A one-of-a-kind spectacle

Of the countless intense high school rivalries that fill the stands and fields with excitement on Friday nights across Northeast Florida, two stand out. In the days of the old Gator Bowl, both contests often occurred at the big stadium downtown in full view of many thousands. The first, Jackson vs. Lee, matches the city’s two oldest schools but has held little relevance for many years as the programs have slipped into decline. But the second, Raines vs. Ribault, remains a vital and thriving institution with a local cultural significance that transcends sports. With the schools separated by less than one mile and vigorous support from the surrounding neighborhoods, the Raines-Ribault rivalry lives and breathes a sense of excitement that has earned it the title of the Northwest Classic.

This rivalry comes with a plethora of back stories. Ribault opened its doors first, beginning in 1956 on Winton Drive in Northwest Jacksonville. Raines, meanwhile, started just half a mile to the south in the 1964-1965 school year, making this the high school’s 50th anniversary. With so little distance between the schools, almost everyone at each school knows someone from the local rival. This unique spirit, intense but largely friendly, demonstrates itself in the Northwest Classic’s ceremonies. Prior to kickoff, Miss Raines and Miss Ribault always meet at midfield to exchange flowers in a symbolic gesture of goodwill. The T-shirts on dozens of fans on the rugged concrete stands tell the story: “Friends after it’s over.”

The game presents a spectacle like no other in Jacksonville. More than one hour before game time, parked cars line the streets for miles around. With little parking available around Moncrief Road, residents show an entrepreneurial side by opening their front yards to fans, charging as much as $20 per vehicle. Parking becomes so chaotic that cars frequently stack two or three deep, turning every which way in a dizzying puzzle of metal, glass, and rubber. Food trucks and carts jostle for position behind the fence that rings the playing field. As kickoff approaches, smoke from dozens of grills engulfs the stadium. Families and neighbors gather in innumerable tents outside the stadium grounds, enjoying an afternoon of football and community pride.

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In games like these, the action on the field often fails to live up to the pregame hype. Neither Raines, the playoff-bound champion of District 4-4A, nor Ribault, in its season finale after elimination from a three-way tiebreaker the previous week, enjoyed much success moving the ball. Raines particularly struggled on offense, turning over five times. But the Vikings’ defense held firm, and a late 50-yard touchdown rush sealed victory for Raines in front of the home crowd at Earl S. Kitchings Stadium. This Times-Union report breaks down the 19-6 Raines victory.


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