‘Tis the season…for chills, thrills, and spills

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

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History came mighty close to repeating itself last week.

To prove just how long I’ve covered the sport of high school football, in 1993 I witnessed history when Tarboro and Hertford County locked horns in what was then the longest game in the history of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

That game was played in Ahoskie between two members of the old Big 8 Conference. In that era, if you survived those wars between league members (that also included Bertie, SouthWest Edgecombe, C.B. Aycock, Wilson Beddingfield, Wilson Fike, and Wilson Hunt) then you could go pretty deep into the state play-offs.

The 1993 match-up between the Bears and the Vikings stood at a 28-28 stalemate at the end of the fourth quarter. That led to overtime, one where each team was allowed four plays from the opponent’s 10 yardline. If the first team scored (either a touchdown or kicked a field goal), then the other team got their opportunity.

After six, heart thumping, action packed overtimes, Tarboro went home as the winner, 70-69.

That game now stands tied for second in the state record book. The record for most overtimes (7) belongs to Mooresville and Lake Norman, played in the 2006 season. Those two teams were also deadlocked at 28-28 at the end of regulation. Mooresville prevailed 68-61 when Lake Norman failed to score in the seventh extra session.

The 1993 matchup between Tarboro and Hertford County ranks among the best three high school football games I’ve ever covered.

I stood on the exact same field in 1986 for the NCHSAA Class AA eastern state championship to witness a classic showdown between a pair of perennial powerhouses: Ahoskie High and Whiteville. In a back-and-forth battle, coach Daryl Allen and his Cougars won by three points.

I was on the sideline inside Kenan Stadium for the 1995 NCHSAA Class AAA championship, witnessing Roy Bond’s Bertie Falcons using a defensive stand inside their own 10 yardline with under three minutes to play to preserve a thrilling 38-34 win over High Point Central.

Number four on my list of the most thrilling games I’ve ever covered is this past Friday night’s battle between Tarboro and Hertford County. It came very close to duplicating the intensity of the record-setting performance by both teams 29 years ago…only without overtime being involved.

Tarboro, the defending state Class A champions, came into the game riding a 15-game winning streak. The Vikings defeated the Bears, 33-18, in their non-conference clash in Tarboro last season. That marked the first time these two schools have met on the gridiron since the days of the Big 8 Conference.

You can read all the details about this past Friday’s game on page 1B of today’s R-C News-Herald or online at www.r-cnews.com. There’s not enough space here to re-cap the game, but I will say that even though the fans were highly entertained by a contest that featured 110 combined points and 992 total yards worth of offense, I was impressed with the way the two teams respected each other. And the head coaches – Terrance Saxby for the Bears and Jeff Craddock for the Vikings – head-up first-class football programs. It was a treat for me to watch those two match wits on Friday night.

Barring any key injuries, Tarboro has the offensive firepower to get back to the Class A championship game.

It’s been 34 years since Hertford County High School played for a state championship in football. The 1988 squad – the first year of consolidation between Ahoskie and Murfreesboro high schools – dropped a heart-breaking 13-10 loss at Thomasville in the Class AA finals that season.

Can the 2022 version of the Bears be the ones to break that drought? It’s still very early in the season to make that bold statement, but this year’s team is blessed with speed and talent on both sides of the ball. We’ll see how the regular season plays out as it’s fairly safe to say at this point that the Bears will qualify for the post-season, barring injury to key players.

Meanwhile, the college football season gets fully underway this week. Locally, please go out and support Chowan University on Thursday evening (Sept. 1) when the Hawks – coming off their best-ever season in the NCAA D-II ranks – play host to Barton College. Kick-off is set for 6 p.m. at James G. Garrison Stadium in Murfreesboro. Wear your blue to support the Hawks!!

There’s another big game just down the road on Saturday when NC State travels to Greenville to meet in-state rival East Carolina University. Kick-off is at 12 noon.

While some of the outcomes have been lopsided in this rivalry (that began in 1970), the Wolfpack doesn’t seem to fair very well in “Rowdy” Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Their last visit there was on Sept. 10, 2016 in a game won by the Pirates, 33-30.

The two teams have met a total of 31 times on the gridiron, with NC State holding an 18-13 advantage. The Wolfpack, ranked #13 in the 2022 pre-season poll, has won the last two meetings: 58-3 in 2018 and 34-6 in 2019, with both contests in Raleigh.

There are some other very intriguing match-ups in week #1 within the Power 5 conferences.

Defending ACC champion Pittsburgh, ranked #17 in the pre-season poll, gets an early test against always rugged West Virginia. That contest (7 pm kickoff) is among a slate of games on Thursday night (Sept. 1).

Another Thursday night game of interest features Penn State at Purdue (8 pm).

Labor Day weekend is a feast for football fans to dive in to. Topping that list is #5 Notre Dame at #2 Ohio State (Saturday, 7:30 pm kick-off).

Also featured on Saturday is #11 Oregon meeting defending national champion Georgia at 3:30 pm inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Pre-season favorite Alabama is at home to meet Utah State (7:30 pm).

There’s another in-state, non-conference rivalry contest on Saturday when UNC visits Appalachian State. That game lists a 12 noon kick-off in Boone.

Other games of interest are #23 Cincinnati at #19 Arkansas (3:30 pm on Saturday); Florida State at LSU (7:30 pm on Sunday); and #4 Clemson at Georgia Tech (8 pm on Monday).

Much to the dismay of my wife Deborah, let the games begin!!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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