Almost as much as the stuffing or cranberry sauce, Rock Hill-area high school football teams playing in turkey bowls has become an annual tradition.
This year will be the 14th time since 1989 that at least two schools from The Herald’s coverage area are playing football during the week of Thanksgiving with a shot at advancing to a state title game. In the Class AAAA Division II playoffs Friday, South Pointe faces Stratford on the road and Northwestern hosts North Augusta, the second consecutive year that both schools are still practicing this time of year. An even juicier proposition? The winners of the two games will meet the following week in Columbia for the state championship game.
Twenty-four years ago, in 1989, was the first time the Rock Hill area had multiple teams in the state semifinals. Northwestern and Rock Hill met in one semifinals game to play the winner of the other involving Lancaster and Stratford. Jimmy Wallace’s Trojans edged Jim Ringer’s Bearcats 14-7 to move on to the Big 16 championship, where they beat Lancaster 14-6 for the school’s first state title.
Rock Hill exacted revenge the next season, beating Northwestern 18-7 in a 1990 turkey bowl. The Bearcats succumbed to Sumter the following week in the Big 16 state championship game, 17-7.
In 1996, the city’s original rivals met in the Big 16 Upper State championship, with Rock Hill prevailing 3-0. The Bearcats eventually lost to Spartanburg 28-6 in the following week’s final.
Sticking with the pattern, Wallace’s Trojans avenged their turkey bowl loss by beating the Bearcats in the state semifinals the next year (1997), the schools’ fourth meeting at that juncture in a nine-season span. But again, the victor from the all-Rock Hill semfinals matchup lost in the state championship, this time Gaffney bested the Trojans 37-30.
In 2001, Northwestern beat Dorman 20-0, but Rock Hill fell to eventual state champs Spartanburg 24-21. Three years later, Rock Hill edged the Trojans 7-6 in a turkey bowl semifinals match, before topping Stratford 21-7 for the school’s second state title in three years.
Clover’s run to a Class AAAA Division II state championship in 2007 coincided with the beginning of a fruitful run locally. The Blue Eagles were joined that year by Northwestern in the Big 16 and Chester in Class AAA. At least two teams from the area have played in Turkey Bowls every year since 2007, a stat perhaps aided by the elimination of geographically-determined Upper and Lower State brackets.
The high-water mark was 2008 when five local teams played Thanksgiving week. Rock Hill lost 45-14 to Sumter in the Big 16 state semifinals, while South Pointe announced its presence as a state football power with a 55-17 win over Laurens that pushed that school into its first state final against – you guessed it – Northwestern. The Trojans whipped Lancaster 45-14, but fell to the first-timers in the final as South Pointe claimed the Division II title, 35-14. Chester also made the semis that year, beating Daniel 27-24 in the Upper State turkey bowl, before falling to Myrtle Beach 31-21, a second straight loss in the state finals for Victor Floyd’s program.
In 2009, there was a first glimpse of the Northwestern-South Pointe hegemony. The teams met in a turkey bowl that year in Class AAAA Division II, with the Trojans winning 24-6. Berkeley knocked off Northwestern in the final 33-24, though there would be sweet redemption for the Trojans in 2010 with an undefeated season culminating in a state title.
Only twice have two teams from this area won turkey bowls and advanced to a state title game to face each other. The first instance was in 1989 when Northwestern and Lancaster met in the Big 16 final, and the Trojans prevailed over Johnny Roscoe’s Bruins. The second was in 2008, when South Pointe beat Northwestern to win the Class AAAA Division II championship only three years after the school opened. There will be a chance for a third such occurrence Friday.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T