With hopes of seeing their high school's football team win its first state championship since 1986, many York residents plan to spend part of the Thanksgiving break cheering on the York Comprehensive High Cougars as they face the South Pointe High Stallions on Friday in Rock Hill.
The winner will earn a ticket to Clemson to play next week for the Class AAA state title.
Of the many fans across the city of 8,000, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who wants to see the Cougars win more than Harmon Merritt.
"They're my favorite team," he said.
At 73, Merritt is a diehard fan of York itself. He has spent his life there and sits on the City Council. He retired from his job as York schools' maintenance director in 2000. He lives on Springdale Drive, four blocks from where he was born. His brother-in-law lives next door.
Merritt played football at what was then York High School for four years before graduating in 1958.
He gets to as many football games as he can.
"I go about all the time," he said. "We cheer and holler and fuss at the referees."
He's in good company.
"That's all people talk about during football season," he said. "There's not much other entertainment in York. Just about everybody in town is kin to somebody on that football team."
"(Last) Friday night against Daniel (High), I think we had more people there than Daniel did at their home."
York's game Friday at South Pointe for the Class AAA Upper State title will also be a shot at redemption. The Cougars lost 39-23 to the Stallions on Oct. 28.
Joe Bridges, owner of L'Cee's Grill and Ice Cream downtown, is expecting to hear a lot about the game from patrons.
Cougar football is "a very big deal," he said. "Usually everybody's churning about it. It doesn't even have to be a playoff game."
York Mayor Eddie Lee said the City Council was planning to honor the football team during the next meeting but changed plans.
"We're going to put that off until they win the state championship," Lee said.
"This is small-town South Carolina pride."
Merritt recalled life when he was on the team.
Back then, the mascot was the Green Dragon. Whenever the team won, a dragon on the scoreboard "would spit fire about 10 feet high."
It was a different time.
"We didn't play playoffs back then," Merritt said. Teams played 10 or 11 games for the most wins in a conference.
"We didn't practice as much (as teams today)," he said. "We didn't have weightlifting. Most of us worked ... in textile plants. I made about a dollar an hour.
"We had some ballplayers back then."
The biggest difference between now and then?
"Teams today are smarter and can probably play just as good. But they're not as tough."