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Southern at Eastern has big stakes for long-time rivals, now both vying for same conference title

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By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Eastern Alamance and Southern Alamance have played a long list of rivalry football games.
There might not be anything quite like Thursday night in Mebane.

“It’s going to be crazy,” said Southern assistant coach Chris Miller, an Eastern alum and former assistant with the Eagles. “It’s going to be great. They’re good and we’re good.”
And so much is at stake – first place in the Central 3-A Conference and seeding position for next month’s state playoffs.

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Southern and Eastern haven’t been conference mates in recent seasons. They’re together again, a development coming with Southern moving down to Class 3-A with the opening of a new school (Southeast Alamance) in the county that reduced their enrollment to 3-A, down from 4-A.

Long neighboring schools, Southern and Eastern even shared Hawfields Middle School as a feeder school. Now the new Southeast district is wedged between the high schools, but that doesn’t diminish the connections – and the rivalry.

“Big rivalry, a lot of tension between us,” Southern senior running back Josiah Tysinger said. “We haven’t beaten them in four, five years.”

Actually, the Patriots last defeated Southern in 2018. They didn’t meet in a pandemic-adjusted season, so Eastern’s win streak is three games in the series, though the Eagles have won seven of the last eight meetings. That included 28-14 last year in Mebane as a non-conference game.

Now it’s a league game.

“It’s going to mean a whole lot more,” Southern running back / linebacker Logan Foust said. “We’re going in blazing.”

No debating that.

“It’s the game,” Eastern coach John Kirby said. “Last year, we played in the second week of the season. They went on and rolled and we went on and rolled.”

The Eagles are two-time defending champions in the Central 3-A Conference.

“This has been our conference,” Eastern receiver Charlie Deacon said. “It’s their first year in here. We can’t let them win.”

The season has unfolded pretty much to plan for the Patriots.

“I think the kids understand the season is building now,” Southern coach Fritz Hessenthaler said.

Southern (7-1 overall, 4-0 Central 3-A Conference) can clinch the conference’s No. 1 seed for the state playoffs and at least a share of the league championship by winning over Eastern.

Otherwise, it becomes complicated.

A Southern loss would move Eastern (7-1, 3-1) into a tie at the top, while Williams (6-2, 3-1) would join them by defeating winless Cedar Ridge. If that unfolds, even Western Alamance (5-3, 2-2) or Roxboro Person (5-3, 2-2) have a chance to tie for the title, but they would need to win twice and get some help.

The final week’s schedule: Western at Southern, Williams at Roxboro Person, Eastern at sixth-place Orange.

Before that, there’s plenty waiting to happen.

“It’s Senior Night, too,” Deacon said. “A must-win game. This is like ‘the’ game.”

Southern played in regular-season finales the past two seasons in winner-take-all clashes with Durham Hillside in the DAC-VII Conference.

This Eastern-Southern business is a traditional rivalry.

“Every year, both sides are amped up to play each other,” Southern linebacker Wesley Smith said. “It feels more like a conference championship.”

So how big is it?

“Whatever people’s perception is, it’s the next one,” Hessenthaler said.

 

Standout Eastern running back Josh Murray has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but he’ll be back.

“This is the last time playing Southern, a very good team,” Murray said.

Deacon said the Eagles are aware that Southern will arrive with its physical, pounding style.
“It’s one of those games you have to stay right mentally,” he said.

Hessenthaler’s previous 4-A teams have been conference runners-up four times in the last five seasons.

“He has got those guys believing that they can’t lose and believing what they do,” Kirby said.
Southern has scored more than 30 points in six games. Eastern has allowed more than 20 points only twice.

“We’ve been scoring all these points,” Smith said. “We’re doing all this winning and we have room to improve.”

Kirby said linebacker Jamarrie Stump could be back from an injury, though defensive back Coty Chambliss’ status is less certain. Southern linebacker Kaleb Franklin, who has been in a walking boot since an injury more than a month ago in the Williams game, could be closer to returning.

Eastern and Southern haven’t met this late on the calendar in at least 20 years.

Murray said he prefers cooler football conditions. Smith said he likes the notion of a chill in the air for a showdown.

Moved up a night because of Friday’s rainy forecast, kick-off is at 7:00 p.m. Thursday night at Eastern.

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