More than just bragging rights at stake for Aiken, South Aiken
Not much more needs to be said this week than this – it’s Aiken vs. South Aiken.
The city rivalry returns to the football field Friday night as the teams begin Region 5-AAAA play. It’s also a return to the field for both for the first time in three weeks – both were on a bye week last week after the Sept. 14 games were washed out.
And if simply getting back on the field wasn’t enough, then, yes, there is that extra excitement that comes when city bragging rights are on the line.
“It’s like I told my guys. If you can’t get jacked up for playing Aiken, you’re in the wrong sport,” said South Aiken head coach Chris Hamilton. “You don’t need to play football.”
Aiken High’s Hagood Stadium is the site for the latest installment of the rivalry, one historically dominated by Aiken but has been recently heavily in South Aiken’s favor. The T-Breds have won two in a row by a combined 52 points and could make it three straight for just the second time in the rivalry’s history.
Aiken (0-4) has lost 15 consecutive games overall and will try to end two streaks at the same time with its passing game, which has accounted for 1,051 yards compared to just 181 on the ground. Quarterback Kory Wallace is the area’s leading passer, and he’s thrown 12 touchdowns compared to four interceptions. Stavon Porter, Charvis Jones and Jeremiah Green each have at least 15 catches, and Jones leads in yardage with 358 on 18 receptions.
“They’ve really gotten comfortable with the offense and understand my expectations,” said second-year Aiken head coach J.W. Montgomery. “The biggest thing is up front with the line and protection. Quarterback play is also a big thing, and Kory has really matured and the receivers are running better routes and understanding how to get open. All of it has to jive together in order for it to work and the maturity of the guys has made that happen.”
The Hornets face a tall task in stopping South Aiken’s defensive line, which Hamilton is challenging to help out the secondary by putting pressure on Wallace. The T-Breds (2-2) have been outstanding defensively the last two games, allowing only seven points in two wins, and the offense is starting to sustain drives to keep them from spending too much time on the field.
Hamilton wants to see his team slow the game down and keep the ball out of Wallace’s hands. He’s looking forward to seeing how the defense responds to playing against an offense that has piled up plenty of yards so far this season. Linebacker Aaron Mazzell and lineman Zaire Harrison share the team lead with 36 tackles, and Harrison has 12 tackles for loss with seven sacks.
“We’re just going to have to focus on sustaining,” Montgomery said. “Their defensive line is very good. They’ve relied on those three guys up front. Those defensive ends both have size and can run. We’re just going to have to bow our necks and man up and be able to execute what we’re trying to do. It’s a big challenge for us, but our line is welcoming the challenge.”
Aiken’s defense has often been shaky this season, and opponents have scored more than 38 points per game against the Hornets. The offense has been slowly coming along for South Aiken, which is scoring just over 15 per game and is still trying to limit the drive-killing mistakes. Nequel Ryans leads the T-Breds with 309 rushing yards. Trevais Butler ran for 146 in the win over Lexington, and quarterback Jesse Sanders has rushed for six touchdowns.
Both teams used their time off to their benefit and made the most out of spending so much time out of action. With no games to play, they worked on fixing their mistakes and getting players healthy. They’re getting back into a rhythm, but there’s still uncertainty heading into Friday’s game.
“To me it’s a little nervous. I felt like we were right there on the cusp of playing really good football,” Montgomery said. “When you hit a rhythm you hate to break that. On the other hand, it gave us a chance to rest up some people, take care of some injuries and get ready for the region.”
Plenty is on the line Friday night, as South Aiken will look to match history while Aiken is trying to avoid it. The Aiken players have heard about their losing streak from every angle, and they’d love nothing more than to end it against their biggest rival. South Aiken, on the other hand, has the chance to extend that misery.
But all of those things related to bragging rights are just that – bragging rights. Ultimately, what’s most important is this game’s impact on the playoff chase as region play begins.
“These guys grow up together and they play ball together all their years,” Hamilton said. “Some of them went to the same middle school – some of them went to Schofield together and Kennedy together. They know each other. It’s one of them things where it’s a crosstown rivalry. It’s a big deal, but we try to just take it as another game.
“This is the next step, being 1-0 this week and hopefully move on, have a good region win. That’s kind of how you’ve got to take it. It’s a big game because it’s the first region game, and to be able to do what we want to do in our ultimate goals is we’ve got to get this one first.”
Sports editor Eric Russell contributed to this story.