By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Williams and Eastern Alamance played a notable football game in the first meeting of the season.
Now they’re matched up again – sooner than either team had imagined just a few weeks ago.
So Thursday night’s second-round game in the Class 3-A state playoffs has all the makings of producing something memorable – for one of the teams.
“We knew the first game was going to be a dogfight,” Eastern safety Gage Parsons said. “Anything can happen. We know we have to come out ready from the start as soon as it kicks off.”
For Williams’ senior-laden defense, the motivation couldn’t be much higher.
“Since we know everybody over there – or at least I do – and we’ve never been able to beat them in the four years I’ve been here,” defensive end Caleb Fogleman said. “It makes you want (to win) even more.”
Linebacker Will Rhodes said, “We’re all seniors and we want to beat them.”
Eastern (10-1) won the first matchup 20-17 in double overtime on September 29. Williams (8-3) has rattled off four straight wins since then, beating Western Alamance twice. That included last week’s 34-20 triumph in the first round of the state playoffs.
Patrick Stokes is in his second year as Williams’ coach after a long stint as Eastern’s defensive coordinator.
“It’s hard to see him on the other side as long as we were together,” veteran Eastern coach John Kirby said.
Stokes has admiration for Eastern’s program and holds close ties with many of the players.
“We know what kind of a team they have,” he said. “They’re that good.”
The Eagles are aware there’s someone familiar with their team on the other sideline.
“He was my coach growing up, even for baseball,” Parsons said.
Much of the clash could come down to Eastern’s high-powered rushing attack and Williams’ sturdy defensive line and play-making linebackers.
“They’ve got some guys over there,” Kirby said, mentioning the linebacking tandem of Rhodes and Grayson Loy.
This next chapter between these teams might be hard to top the most-recent edition.
“The first game was pretty crazy,” Eastern offensive lineman Brent Wheeley said.
Yet expect different types of twists and turns.
“We want to come back and beat them again,” Wheeley said. “We’re changing because obviously teams change throughout the season.”
From the Williams perspective, it’s a coveted opportunity.
“It’s another Alamance County team we can get revenge on,” Rhodes said.
Penalties dinged Williams in the first matchup with the Eagles.
“We did some of those things,” Fogleman said. “We’ve got all that worked out.”
The Bulldogs have already dealt with one rematch this month. Now the Eagles get a taste of that.
“It’s hard to play a team twice,” Kirby said. “It’s not like one team dominated the other.
…You’d like to be able to play each other again, but you’d like it to be a late-round game. We know at least one team from Alamance County will be in the third round.”
Same-season rematches have gone both ways for Eastern during Kirby’s coaching career.
Among those, the Eagles beat visiting Williams in the 2011 regular season and then two weeks later on the same field lost a playoff rematch. In 2013, there was a regular-season loss to Western Alamance followed by a road playoff victory.
“We feel like we’ve been here,” Kirby said.
The Eagles won three postseason games last year. They’re intent on another deep run.
“Eastern playoffs,” Eagles linebacker Cole McGinnis said. “That’s all I heard as a kid.”
The outcome Thursday night figures to create an additional dialogue when it comes to the Williams/Eastern Alamance rivalry.
“This is going to show (who is) the best of the 3-A in the county,” McGinnis said. “I know they’re going to come out hot.”