One of the most intense rivalries in Mecklenburg County will be in the limelight Friday when North Meck hosts cross-town rival Hopewell on the Vikings' senior night.
"The Hopewell-North game is everything that's good about high school athletics," said Vikings coach Mike Bradley. "It's exciting, the student sections are there an hour, hour-and-a-half before the game. It makes for a great atmosphere."
In its 10th year, the rivalry between the two I-Meck schools is still going strong - and not just in football. The competitive nature of the rivalry developed almost instantly, as Hopewell drew most of its students from North Meck when it opened in 2001.
In the first few years, the Vikings dominated the series, but now the Titans hold the advantage, leading the rivalry 5-4 after having taken the Battle Shield home the last three years.
Hopewell will come into the game as the favorite, having stayed near the top of the conference standings all season. North Meck, on the other hand, is looking to get its first home victory to close out the season.
"Anything can happen in big rivalry games," said Titans coach Chris Rust.
Titans fullback/linebacker Denzel Heath knows how big the rivalry is for both programs.
"It's like North Carolina-Duke," he said, adding that he hopes his Titans are able to take the shield for the fourth year in a row. "I've never lost to them and I don't want to start now."
Because of the schools' proximity - the two are six miles apart - their players grew up together and know their opponents well. All of this adds to the rivalry.
"Knowing who you're hitting or knowing who's hitting you makes a big difference," said Bradley.
Because of this, North Meck's Jalen McCullough said, he knows the game is also about bragging rights.
"You want to give it your best since you could see them tomorrow or that next week - even that same night at Cookout - so you don't want to hear them trash talk," McCullough said.
One of the ways this game separates itself from others is the student support both teams bring to the game.
Rust said having a raucous crown on hand motivates both teams.
"I think we both play better with all the support," he said.
Both head coaches know what the rivalry is all about. Rust was an assistant at North for 19 years before moving to Hopewell when it opened to coach under Bradley, who led the Titans in their first four seasons. Rust was promoted to head coach after Bradley moved to be an assistant under Glen Padgett for the Vikings.
Rust and Bradley, who said they're good friends off the field, are looking forward to closing out the season with a rivalry win.
"It's just the perfect game to end our schedule," said Bradley.