High School Sports

Football: A rival revival

Lugoff-Elgin High School students cheer for their team during their game against rival Camden, Friday, September 19, 2008.
Lugoff-Elgin High School students cheer for their team during their game against rival Camden, Friday, September 19, 2008. The State

LUGOFF — Nearly everyone in the packed home stands at Lugoff-Elgin Stadium wore red Friday night.

Many displayed T-shirts with “Beat Camden” on the front and the word ‘Again’ on the back.

A day earlier, seven miles away at Camden High, a similar T-shirt covered the torso of a student walking the halls after school — but this one featured Camden High’s black-and-gold colors and “Beat Lugoff’ on the front.

That shirt was clearly well-worn because that part of this Kershaw County rivalry has become ancient history.

After years of domination by Camden, which claims seven state championships in its 113 years of football, Lugoff-Elgin has won three consecutive games, including Friday night’s 21-7 victory.

Camden still owns a 24-5 mark in the series that began in 1978. But the Demons — upstarts in comparison to one of the state’s most storied programs — no longer belong in the Bulldogs’ shadows.

“It’s reversed on us,” Camden senior offensive lineman Thorne Holliday said. “It certainly has.”

It was a long time coming.

Camden began playing football in 1895, won its first state championship in 1931 and claimed its most recent state title in 2001.

Lugoff-Elgin High didn’t open its doors until 1970 or begin playing football until 1972.

For most of their coexistence, that historical difference has played out on the field. In the first 16 games of the series, all Camden victories, the Bulldogs recorded eight shutouts.

The 1990 game, won 50-0 by Camden, is a prime example of the Bulldogs’ dominance. Camden posted a 15-0 record that season and earned the Class 3A state championship. Two of Camden’s players in that game, Bobby Engram and Vonnie Holliday, went on to NFL careers that remain active today.

It was impossible for the folks in Lugoff-Elgin to avoid being envious, particularly because most of the parents of Lugoff-Elgin’s players were Camden High graduates.

“Our communities are so interrelated,” said Scott Jones, a Lugoff-Elgin assistant coach in 1995 who became the Demons head coach in 2002. “It used to be we had no players whose parents were alumnus of Lugoff-Elgin.”

Current Lugoff-Elgin senior linebacker Campbell Connell’s grandmother taught at Camden High, and his dad played football for the Bulldogs. During the 2001 season, which produced another unbeaten state champion for Camden, Connell remembers attending a Camden playoff game at Zemp Stadium.

“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Connell said. “They killed the team they played. I thought, ‘Man, these guys are really dominant. I hope we can do that one day.’ “

Jones sensed a similar feeling when he came to the school from Dutch Fork in 1995 to join new coach Ernie Hughes’ staff.

“We were totally shocked about the intensity of the rivalry,” Jones said. “We didn’t understand it. We didn’t understand how bad these people over here wanted to beat Camden. It had never been done. It was a lopsided rivalry.”

It wasn’t for lack of effort or caring. Practices during Camden week were different.

“We were totally shocked at players’ reactions,” Jones said. “That week during practice was absolutely emotional. Players were tearing up. They wanted to be the first team to beat Camden.”

After a 14-9 Camden win in 1995 that showed the Demons were getting close, history occurred in 1996 with a 35-17 Lugoff-Elgin win.

“You would have thought we’d won the Super Bowl the way that this community reacted,” Jones said. “I was at Irmo-Dutch Fork. There’s nothing I’ve ever been involved with that compares to this.”

The Demons made it two in a row in 1997, but the rivalry reverted when Jimmy Neal became Camden’s coach in 1998.

A 1974 Camden High grad, Neal returned to his alma mater and became one of the first in the area to install the spread offense. Camden’s return to glory, and dominance against Lugoff-Elgin, soon followed.

Camden won the next eight, and many were not close.

In 2002, when Jones took over as coach, he found his team down by four touchdowns at halftime against the Bulldogs.

“I remember,” Jones said, “going into that old field house and saying ‘Listen guys. Right now we can’t compete with them. They are stronger and better than we are athletically. Until we get in the weight room and really start to bust it, we’re never going to compete with them.”

Jared Singleton didn’t hear that speech. That year, he was in sixth grade in Camden.

“I remember going to the games and thinking that Camden was the best team ever,” he said. “I didn’t like Lugoff, and I never thought that I’d be playing for Lugoff. But things change.”

The following year, his family moved to Lugoff-Elgin, and he started playing for the Demons. By 2005, his freshman year, he played against Camden in a 26-7 Bulldogs win.

“I remember walking off the field and thinking I don’t want to experience this any more,” Singleton said. “You may lose all your games, but if you beat your rival, it makes up for things.”

The Demons haven’t lost to Camden since.

“I think, as a program, it really shows things can happen when you work hard,” Singleton said. “Through the years, Camden sometimes had better athletes, and sometimes they just wanted it more. I think we’ve just adapted to hard work and doing things the right way. It’s starting to show right now.”

Last Friday night, another Bulldog-turned-Demon helped Lugoff extend its winning streak.

Devonte Alexander, a junior varsity player at Camden in 2007, intercepted a school-record three passes, returning one for a touchdown in Lugoff-Elgin’s 21-7 win.

Back on the Camden side, Thorne Holliday, Vonnie’s nephew, knows what that means.

“Playing Lugoff is the most important game of the season,” the younger Holliday said. “All year long they are talking trash. We are talking trash on our side. When the game starts and the whistle blows, that’s when all the trash talking stops. It’s time to put on the pads and really see who is the best that year and (who) gets bragging rights for the whole year.”

These days, those wearing red get to do the bragging.

Reach Wiseman at (803) 771-8472.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC