One team is 9-1 overall, the other is 4-6. One team has won the last 15 meetings straight. One team is a perennial conference title contender, the other a middle-of-the-pack dweller.
Hardly the definition of a rivalry.
But none of that matters when East Bladen and West Bladen get together on the gridiron for the annual Battle for the Bell.
“Throw the records out,” Eagles coach Robby Priest said this week. “Both schools get up for this — a lot of the kids know each other well and some of them are even kin, so this one means a lot to both sides.”
The coveted Bell has taken up residence at East Bladen High for the past 15 years after spending the first year at West Bladen when the Knights beat the Eagles, 34-21. But even though East Bladen has taken 15 straight Ws from its cross-county rival, some of those haven’t come easy.
In 2005, the Eagles managed to squeak out a 19-13 win and, just last season, East Bladen took a 7-0 win over the Knights on a second-quarter, 51-yard touchdown pass from Quinton Bedsole to Eian Hines.
“The kids all remember that game and want to play better,” Priest said. “And I made sure to remind them (about last season’s game).”
West Bladen remembers, too.
“Oh yes, I reminded them,” Knights coach Kris Williams said. “They know they’ve played them close, but we have to put together a full 48 minutes.”
The two offenses each operate out of the Wing-T, with featured running backs in Xavier Wooten of East Bladen and B.J. Drake of West Bladen. Wooten has rushed for 1,170 yards and 18 touchdowns on 181 carries this season, while Drake has 1,295 yards and 19 touchdowns in 148 carries.
The Eagles also rely on fullback Xavia McDowell (390 yards and three TDs on 62 carries) and two running backs — Eric Chancy (386 yards and seven TDs on 58 carries) and James Higgins (343 yards and five TDs on 45 carries) — who can also carry a load if a team keys on Wooten. The Knights also have other options in the backfield, including running backs Dayvon Swindell (517 yards and four TDs on 69 carries) and Kerron Washington (308 yards and three TDs on 44 carries).
“The running game always sets the tone,” Priest said. “But I think the team that passes the best Friday will win.”
That could put the spotlight on the quarterbacks. West Bladen will be led by sophomore Tyre Boykin, while East Bladen has options under center, including seniors Quinton Bedsole and Sincere Smith.
“Neither team throws a lot — probably we do more than they do,” Williams said. “But we both want to be able to establish the ground game.”
On defense, West Bladen will offer up its usual 50 front with an occasional 40 front — led by lineman Jonathan Robinson, who has 61 tackles and 3.5 sacks this season. He’s joined by linebacker Jvahn Thomas, who has 52 tackles, as a defensive leader. At the back of the defense, Swindell leads the Knights with four interceptions.
East Bladen sets up its defense in a 3-5 or 5-3 and is led by Wooten with 59 tackles and McDowell with 32 tackles at linebacker posts. The team as a whole has 11.5 sacks and six interceptions — the Eagles also have the Three Rivers Conference’s stingiest defense, having given up just 120 points this far.
Friday’s kickoff is set for 7 p.m., right after the Eagles celebrate Senior Night.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.