COLUMBIA -- Chester coach Victor Floyd and Wilson coach Darryl Page first met in 1996.
Floyd was coaching in Greensboro, N.C., at Page High School and brought his team south to play West Charlotte, ranked No. 7 nationally and the defending state champion, in a playoff game. Floyd had a cousin coaching at Marlboro County, who asked Page if he'd like to tag along.
They witnessed Floyd's team pull the upset, beating a team that many deemed unbeatable and knocking the Lions out of the playoffs.
"Coach Page and I became instant friends,'' Floyd said. "We talk on the phone at least once a week. A couple of weeks ago we were talking and he mentioned we could end up meeting in the state championship game.
"When we talked two weeks ago, and I told him it might happen, we felt it was good for both of us. Going into last week's games we talked again and he said, 'Let's make a date.' So now we're here."
The two old friends have a dinner date at 6 p.m. today. That's when Chester (12-2) and Wilson (11-3) line up at William-Brice Stadium and play for the Class AAA state title. It's been a long time coming for both teams.
Chester last played for the championship in 1963, beating Eau Claire. Wilson is making its first trip in 54 years, when it was called Florence High School and the Tigers beat Greenwood.
"I was sitting at the state basketball championship last year and a fan came up to me after we won the game,'' Page said. "He looked at me and said, 'Coach, it's about time for you to get one of these.' We've been close before, but now we're here.''
Offensively, the Cyclones and Tigers mirror each other. Both use a two-quarterback system -- Chester going with Gene McCaskill and C.C. Whitlock, Wilson with Richard Cue and Maliek McCall.
"We do it to change the tempo,'' Page said. "Richard starts and plays the first half. Maliek starts the second. Their stats are comparable and the team feeds off both of them.''
"We go with the quarterback who's hot but a lot of it depends on the game situation,'' Floyd said.
Both squads are quick, but some say Chester might have the best overall speed of any team in the state.
The Cyclones have rolled up 2,774 rushing yards, 2,262 passing yards and have scored 458 points. The Tigers have run for 1,816, passed for 1,878 and have scored 379 points.
Although Chester holds a big edge in the offensive numbers, they show both teams are consistent and have balanced attacks.
With all of that said, it appears the game could turn into a shootout. But hold on.
Chester's defense is playing like gangbusters over the past seven games, all wins. And the Cyclones lead the state with seven shutouts.
During the streak, the averages allowed for Chester are 68 yards rushing, 105 passing and 8.0 points. The season totals are not much higher at 96 rushing, 95 passing and 11.3 points.
"We are undersized on defense, but we run well,'' Floyd said. "Our kids operate on the 'it' factor. They get after it.''
Wilson has allowed 2,323 rushing yards, but has fared well against passing teams, only giving up only 970 yards. That averages to 166 yards rushing and 69.3 passing per game. The Tigers have allowed 215 points, an average of 15.4.
It's looking more and more like it could be a defensive standoff, highlighted by breakaway plays.
Chester's Mario Hughes, a 5-foot-11, 235-pound senior, likened Wilson to Fairfield Central, the Cyclones' rival. They met twice this season, Chester winning 32-26 in the regular season and two weeks later in the playoffs, 16-12.
Wilson's road to the finals has been harder than Chester's. The Tigers finished third in their region and all their playoff games were on the road. It started at Socastee and ended last week with a 34-28 win over heavily favored Crestwood.
Page said the team adopted a motto -- "Let's get four more quarters'' -- they used after every playoff win.
Chester was a region champion and played its four postseason games at home. The Cyclones got a huge break when Union County upset Clinton. That meant Chester would not have to leave Cyclones Stadium.
And with the state championship in front of their faces, Floyd said it's a game he and his players have been building toward since he got there four years ago.
"I feel like I've been holding my breath for four years and can finally breathe,'' he said. "I remember Gene's freshman year when he came to us weighing 110 pounds. His helmet was jiggling on his head and when we couldn't find a smaller one, we had to cram it with extra padding.''
McCaskill's helmet fits now, and he's committed to playing wide receiver at Kentucky next year. Whitlock had an impressive list of offers and committed to South Carolina earlier this week. Terrell Springs, a running back/cornerback, committed to Alabama-Birmingham.
Floyd said six or seven more seniors could get offers from smaller schools. It's been a work in progress, a successful one, and payday comes tonight.
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• When: Today
• Class AAAA Division I: Summerville vs. Byrnes, Noon
• Class AA: Chapman vs. Cheraw, 3 p.m.
• Class AAA: Wilson vs. Chester, 6 p.m.
• Tickets: $10 at the gate
Check out heraldonline.com tonight for regular scoring updates from the Chester vs. Wilson state championship game.