NC high school football rivalries highlight the final week of the regular season

·7 min read

Just a few short months ago, I wrote about the new season that was upon us, about the smell of freshly cut Bermuda grass, the sweltering heat of those first practices, and the high hopes that teams had for winning conference and state titles.

Now we’re in the final week of the regular season, which means that many seniors across the state will be playing the final games of their careers.

Even for schools who know that they’ll be advancing on to the state playoffs, which will begin next Friday, a certain finality to the season begins to set in as players and coaches alike start to appreciate the practices, and understand that each play made, or timeout called could be their last of the season, or even their careers.

For the communities involved, these final few weeks give fans one last chance to root on their favorite players and talk about their favorite sport at the water coolers at work, or at their churches on Sunday.

I’ve often said, football is so deeply woven into the fabric of our small towns and communities that it becomes even bigger than the games. Players often go down into history as local legends, and some of the most successful coaches have even more clout than the local politicians.

In an annual ritual among many communities across the state, the final week of the season is always reserved for the biggest rivalry games. Often, it’s town versus town, county versus county, or two schools situated within the same city limits.

Whatever the case may be, rivalry week is always special, and this week we’ve got some of the biggest and best rivalries taking place around the state.

Wake County rumble

The Triangle region will be rocking this week as Wake Forest travels to Millbrook for a huge Northern Athletic Conference game with championship implications. The mission is simple for head coach Reggie Lucas and squad, win the game and take home the hardware.

However, Millbrook can claim a share of the title with a victory, and the high-flying duo of Mason Fortune and Wesley Grimes will be looking to have their best game of the season against the strong defensive Cougars squad.

Also in Wake County, Sanderson will travel to Cardinal Gibbons with a shot at winning the CAP-6 championship.

After a slow start to the year, where head coach Jeremy Buck was sidelined for two games due to COVID-19, the Spartans have surged of late and have a five-game winning streak heading into this crucial contest.

To come away with the win, the Spartans defense will have to be up to the task of stopping Cardinal Gibbons running back Donovon Shepard who ran 19 times for 539 yards and six touchdowns a week ago against Athens Drive.

The 92nd Battle for the Bell in Kannapolis

You can’t talk rivalry games in North Carolina without starting with the Granddaddy of all rivalries, the Battle for the Bell between A.L. Brown and Concord.

This is the oldest continuously played rivalry game in the state and Friday will mark the 92nd renewal of this battle between neighboring Cabarrus County cities. A.L. Brown leads all-time series record 44-43-4, and at stake will be the Southern Railway victory bell that goes to the winner.

Last week the Spiders wrapped up the South Piedmont 3A Championship behind a huge defensive effort against West Rowan, and will already be advancing to the playoffs, but the Wonders will be looking to even-up their record and avoid their first losing season since 1977.

The Wonders have retained the Victory Bell for the past six seasons, but you can bet that former Spider alum, and current head coach Marty Paxton hopes to give the bell a new paint job this week.

The 2021 season has been a series of close, and at times painful losses for Mike Newsome and his team, but a victory over the Spiders could go a long way towards healing those wounds and setting the tone during the offseason.

A pair of Cleveland County rivalries

I’ve often wrote that Cleveland County just does high school football differently in this state. In an era where the number of spectators at games have dwindled over the years, mostly because of other entertainment options for young people, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

The Southern Piedmont 2A crown will be up for grabs as Burns travels to George Blanton Memorial Stadium to take on the rival Shelby Golden Lions in their season finale.

Both of these 2A powerhouse programs have undefeated conference records coming into this tilt, and even for someone like me, that follows the teams and players closely, picking a winner will be difficult.

It could be a battle of a powerful defense against a potent offense in this game, Shelby is averaging north of 49 points-per-game while Burns has held opponents to 13.1.

The sensational sophomore duo of Ben Mauney, who has been clutch for the Bulldogs at quarterback, and running back Jeremiah Norris, who has been terrific since the calendar turned to October, are a sign of big things to come for this Burns squad.

However, to stop the Golden Lions, head coach Dan Devine and the Bulldog defense will have to put the clamps on junior gunslinger Daylin Lee, who has been putting up video game like numbers, and is about to eclipse the 2,000 yard passing mark.

On the eastern side of the county, Crest will travel to Kings Mountain in a game that will feature two teams that are undefeated in Big South 3A play.

While Kings Mountain isn’t as star-heavy as they’ve been in recent seasons, head coach Greg Lloyd does have a solid stable of athletes, all of which are capable of putting up yards. A team like this that isn’t as dependent on one single play could be tough to scheme for.

Guilford Gamebreakers

Fans may have a hard time finding a seat at Johnny Roscoe Stadium on Friday as a battle of two undefeated teams will be ready to lay claim on the Metro Conference championship.

Northern Guilford will host the defending 4A champion Grimsley Whirlies in a battle of two of the fastest and strongest teams in the 4A classification. Both of these teams are averaging upwards of 44 points-per-game, and both have game-breaking quarterbacks that can take the ball to the house on any play.

Grimsley quarterback Alonza Barnett, III has shown that next-level ability all season long, eclipsing the 2,000 passing and 300 yard rushing mark. Northern’s junior field general Jack Mercer has shown the ability to make smart reads and pick defenses apart one pass at a time and feed the ball to a terrific cast of receivers.

This game has all the makings of an Instant Classic, so I would suggest arriving early if you don’t want to end up standing.

On the other side of town, Dudley will travel to Eastern Guilford to settle the Mid-State 3A championship.

The Dudley Panthers defense has been tremendous. The trio of Jhyheem Pittman, Logan Wright, and Jeremiah Barnes is enough to give any offensive coordinator a serious headache. While the Panthers have been dominant on defense, they’ll have to contend with the Khyair Lundy passing combination, and if they focus too much on the pass, Jaiden Evans is tough to stop between the tackles.

This could be the last week to cheer on some of your favorite players, so like I say every week, go out and support these local schools. Not only could some of these players be the stars of tomorrow, the schools and athletic departments also need our financial support.

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