WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — There was no admission charge. Officials wore shorts. No one in the press box kept statistics.
Yes, Friday night’s Colerain at Lakota West football scrimmage was just that. It was part of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s Jamboree, and the Colerain helmet didn’t even have the Cardinal decal on it yet.
But the estimated 1,500 fans sitting in Firebird Stadium on a picture-perfect late August evening got a glimpse into one of the most anticipated Greater Miami Conference seasons in recent memory.
No one could remember the last time a scrimmage as heavily anticipated between two schools occurred in the GMC.
Colerain and Lakota West won’t play in the regular season until 2020. With eight GMC games on each team’s schedule, a member plays the only other team it doesn’t face in the regular season each year.
Still, Friday night certainly seemed like a significant tune-up for Week 1.
“How about that student section?” Lakota West coach Tom Bolden said. “I’ve never seen anything like that for a scrimmage.”
Of course, the main storyline was Bolden facing Colerain for the first time since he took over the Lakota West program in December 2018 — just a week after the Cardinals lost in the state final. The new journey for Colerain and Lakota West has already begun.
Bolden led Colerain to three Division I state Final Four appearances, including the 2018 state runner-up, during his 12 seasons as head coach on Cheviot Road.
He still lives in Colerain Township and admitted he had to do a few double-takes looking over at the Colerain sideline. He greeted former assistant coaches after the game.
“I love the fans and that Colerain community dearly,” Bolden said.
The Firebirds' faithful responded to Bolden's energy early in the game, especially after a long touchdown run by senior running back David Afari in the first half. Bolden sprinted off the sideline to acknowledge the student section in a manner very familiar to Colerain fans over the years.
"It's definitely a new atmosphere out here in West Chester, and I'm so glad to be a part of it," Bolden said. "I am looking forward to this ride."
Shawn Cutright, Colerain’s longtime defensive coordinator the past 11 seasons, succeeded Bolden as the head coach. The coaches joined in a pregame meeting and had a discussion with officials on the field prior to the kickoff.
“We’ve been together for so long and on the same staff so long,” Cutright said. “Our kids know each other, our families know each other. We talked about how everybody was doing and we reminisced a little bit, then we had to get ready to play. I thought it was a pretty spirited first half.”
Bolden received well wishes from the Colerain side after the game, including one player who expressed significant admiration for his former coach. Bolden is proud of Cutright and the entire Colerain coaching staff.
“He is the right guy for the job,” Bolden said. “I’m so excited for him.”
Lakota West defeated Colerain 21-7, but no one seemed to care about the final score. The projected starters played the first half, and the second half was an opportunity for other players to get playing time. Each coach discussed how their teams need to improve for next week.
Bolden and Cutright agreed the opportunity was good for both teams as their prepare for season openers Aug. 30. Lakota West plays at La Salle while Colerain travels to Huber Heights Wayne.
“It was a good atmosphere,” Cutright said. “It’s always fun to put the pads on and get the crowd behind you on both sides of the ball and have a little spirited scrimmage here.”
Colerain, winners of 19 consecutive GMC titles, is going for a conference-record 20th this season. The Cardinals were co-champions in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2013. Princeton won 19 consecutive GMC titles from 1967 to 1985 (co-champions in 1973 and 1968).