HUNTINGTON - Huntington High football coach Billy Seals is a University of Tennessee fan, so he knows better than to take winning for granted.
Seals beloved Volunteers, a 26-point favorite, were upset by Georgia State 38-30 on Saturday. While many fans figure, based on the past, the Highlanders should win Friday's 7:30 p.m. season-opening game with Riverside at Bob Sang Stadium, the veteran coach is not predicting a triumph. One key reason is that the Warriors already have played a game, beating Woodrow Wilson 38-8 on the road last week in a dominating performance.
"I think so," Seals said after being asked if Riverside has an advantage because it has played. "They've worked out their first-game jitters and figured out their sub packages and other things. We haven't had an opportunity to do so."
Those aspects are important, possibly as much so as talent in some games. Seals said he likes his players and his team, but doesn't know what to expect from a club that lost five starting offensive linemen, including three college players, from last year's squad.
"We have a lot of question marks," Seals said. "We have a lot of kids who haven't played on Friday night, but are very talented. It comes down to how do you handle adversity, make substitutions, how are you at getting people on and off the field. We'll find out."
Seals is 4-0 against Riverside, first winning 21-20 in overtime in 2010, then 28-15 in 2011.
The Mountain State Athletic Conference foes didn't meet again until 2015 when HHS won 52-7. Last season, the Highlanders won 24-8 on their way to an 8-4 record and berth in the quarterfinals of the Class AAA playoffs.
"Last year it was 7-2 at halftime," Seals said. "They played us tough."
Riverside went 1-9 last season, but Seals said the Warriors are much better this year. He based his comments on last week's game in which Riverside ran for more than 400 yards, with three backs gaining more than 100 yards apiece. Caden Easterling picked up 255 yards on 24 carries. Charlie Pierson carried nine times for 116 yards. Javonte Elzy ran for 107 yards on eight attempts.
"They are improved," Seals said. "I saw them at (Woodrow Wilson) and up front, their offensive and defensive lines, played really well. Easterling and Pierson are tough runners."
Seals expects to see plenty of both, even though HHS held the Warriors to 27 yards on 28 attempts last year.
"We're a different team," Seals said. "We're not running big Darnell Wright (a freshman at the University of Tennessee) out there this year. We have some talented players, but many of them are young."