What makes a good rivalry?
Is it longevity, proximity, competitive fire or handsome box office receipts?
These questions come to mind as the regular season in all classifications except 4A concludes this week. Week 10 is the closest Midlands football comes to a rivalry week.
On tap Friday night are four games that fit the classic parameters of a rivalry game: Brookland-Cayce vs. Airport, A.C. Flora vs. Dreher, Hammond vs. Heathwood Hall and Batesburg-Leesville vs. Saluda.
“A lot of factors go into making a good rivalry,” said Bob Hanna, whose Irmo program doesn’t have a season-ending rivalry game but is unique in the Midlands in that it has two annual high-interest games against Dutch Fork and Lexington.
“To me the most important thing is having communities that are close together and have a lot of interaction. Those two games are our biggest games of the year, no doubt. The winner gets to give their friends the business all year. A loss sticks with the coach, players and fans a long time. It’s like Clemson-Carolina, only on a smaller level.”
At A.C. Flora, playing Dreher is the highlight of the season.
“For the student body and our alumni, it’s Dreher and always has been,” said A.C. Flora athletics director Charlie Wentzky. “The schools are two miles apart and have been playing since the early 1960s, so it’s an obvious rivalry. Other than maybe homecoming, it’s our biggest gate of the year.”
Of the four rivalry games tonight Flora-Dreher has been the most hotly contested. Flora has won five in a row over the Blue Devils to take a 25-23-2 lead in the series that started in 1961.
Airport and Brookland-Cayce are the most familiar of foes – playing 66 times since the inaugural meeting of the Lexington 2 school district schools in 1966. The lure of big crowds has prompted the schools to schedule home-and-away games in the same season 18 times.
B-C ended a 10-game losing streak against the Eagles with a dramatic Week 1 win and would like nothing better than to lock down a state playoff berth and complete a season sweep of Airport for the first time since 2004.
Hammond vs. Heathwood Hall has been the standard for area independent schools, meeting every season but one since 1982. The series includes two championship encounters, both won by Hammond.
Batesburg-Leesville and Saluda started their inter-county rivalry in 1920 and have met every season since 1950. B-L traditionally has dominated the neighboring Tigers with a 49-26-1 series advantage, but Saluda has had the upper hand of late with two straight wins against the Panthers.
Other Midlands rivalries of note, in no particular order:
• Irmo vs. Lexington: Irmo has won 35 of the 46 “Battle of the Dam” games since the inaugural in 1970. The slate includes two state playoff clashes. The annual caravan of fans across Dreher Shoals Dam at Lake Murray makes this one of the more noteworthy rivalries in the state.
• Irmo vs. Dutch Fork: The breakaway Silver Foxes chose not to play parent Irmo in their first four years of play at the 3A level, but the teams have battled 24 times in 18 seasons since the series debuted in 1996. The teams shared Irmo’s W.C. Hawkins Stadium for more than 10 years before the Dutch Fork stadium was built on campus. The Silver Foxes had won five in a row before Irmo’s 42-41 upset this season upped the Yellow Jackets’ series lead to 17-7.
• Camden vs. Lugoff-Elgin: The cross-river rivalry took some time to develop. L-E history began in 1973, but the teams did not square off on an annual basis until 1982. Camden won the first 16 games and leads the series 27-7. However, this rivalry is perhaps the most unique in the Midlands. The two communities still maintain a small-town feel and every game is broadcast on radio. Community pride and involvement never wavers, regardless of the standing of the teams year to year.