Did Friday's latest edition of the football rivalry between Rock Hill and Northwestern sneak up on anybody?
If so, you are not alone. If not, you are a true fan of the series that is often described as the "best in the state'' in many circles. It would be hard to argue that point, and apologies to the folks in York and Clover and those in Lewisville and Great Falls.
The list of standout players who have participated in the game is long and would take quite a bit of space to record, but includes players like Rick Sanford, Jimmy Kiser, Jeff Burris, Ben Watson, Shawn Woodard, Dee Feaster and Jonathan Joseph from Northwestern.
Lamarick Simpson, Lamar Thompson, Damon Poag, Andy McCrorey, Gerald Dixon, Chris Hope, Tony Watkins, Ko Simpson and Phillip Adams from Rock Hill.
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What's bad about lists is someone always get left out. The ones above are no different, but you get the idea.
The game has usually brought out fans from both schools that don't attend other games during the rest of the season. District Three Stadium is packed more than not; there have been sellouts, there have been overtime thrillers; last-minute thrillers; blowouts; has been on regional TV and even had a song written about it.
Some years it decides the region title and a better playoff spot. And sometimes only city bragging rights to the winner for a year.
But the game seems to have lost some of its luster. No disrespect to any of the coaches still around, but when Rock Hill coach Jim Ringer left after the 2004 season, followed by Jimmy Wallace at Northwestern soon after, folks around town said it just wasn't the same anymore. Maybe, maybe not, but other factors came into play.
For two years, they were placed into different regions before joining back this season. "So what?'' you may say, but for the first time since Northwestern opened in 1970, the game was no longer the final of the regular season for each. The season-long build-up was gone, and playing a non-region game early in the season didn't help the spirit going.
It began after Wallace left and spent two seasons running Northwestern's athletic department. Again, no disrespect to his replacement, Mike Allen, but quarterback Bart Blanchard was hurt in his first game and the Trojans went south. And it only got worse when the school conducted a self-investigation and discovered in the spring that the football team's punter had used up his eligibility after moving here from a private school in Atlanta.
The Trojans had to forfeit its wins and ended up 0-12.
Reality also hit on the other side of town, with the opening of Rock Hill's third high school, South Pointe, hauling away more strong feeder neighborhoods from Rock Hill than from Northwestern in 2005. New Bearcats coach Joe Montgomery bit the bullet and went with his young players with the emphasis on the future. Tomorrow arrived early in 2008.
The Bearcats made it all the way to the Class AAAA Division I semifinals and missed its third championship game since 2002 with a loss to Sumter.
The same year, Northwestern was in its second season with Wallace back at the helm and because they were on different sides of the playoff bracket, South Pointe and Northwestern made it to the Class AAAA Division II title game. South Pointe, 3 years young in varsity football, won and completed a 15-0 season.
But Rock Hill, folks said out loud, would be "The Team'' to beat in 2009. With 16 seniors, good seniors, back they would be the class of the state. They went 11-0 in the regular season then were blindsided by a struggling Spartanburg team in the first round of the playoffs. So long, seniors, and time to rebuild.
The Bearcats started 3-1 this year, losing in their fourth game to South Pointe. The new kids were coming together. Could the Bearcats bloom early again as they had two years ago? No, even after Rock Hill got to 5-2 and was playing well in stretched.
The Bearcats has used an ineligible player in their first three games and reported their mistake to the South Carolina High School League. They had to forfeit those first three wins and their record reversed to 2-5. They have not won since and are 2-8. And as if it couldn't get worse, Montgomery and his staff have had to deal with defections and discipline problems, which he will not discuss.
"Don't want to talk about quitters, those who are no longer with us,'' he recently said. "We only talk about the ones still here, a group that wants to learn and wants to work hard to get better.''
Northwestern has faced a few rough spots this season, but the Trojans have been able to overcome their burps. They are 10-0, ranked No. 2 in the state and where Montgomery has had to throw an untested quarterback, junior Corey Wessinger into the fire behind an inexperienced line, Northwestern has arguably one of the best five in the state in senior Justin Worley.
So will Friday's game be a blowout, a one-side affair that will keep you at home in the Lazy Boy? Or will you be at the stadium, cheering for your team, whichever it may be, to win? It's Rock Hill versus Northwestern, and if the game has lost its luster, it's that way only in your mind.
TICKETS: Tickets for Friday's Northwestern at Rock Hill game will be sold today and Friday in RHHS's A-Building lobby from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. They are $8 each.
STALLIONS: South Pointe, 9-1 and ranked No. 1 in Class AAA, open the playoffs at home tonight at 7:30, a day earlier than the state's other lower classification teams.
The Stallions are led by All-State defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Gerald Dixon, kicker Landon Ard and Devin Pearson, who has taken over at quarterback and has moved the option offense well in the last two games.