For the last decade, A.L. Brown has spent most of its time on top of the South Piedmont Conference standings, winning at least a share of four of the last five SPC crowns, including the last three.
This year, the Wonders are in a similar position with just three weeks left in the regular season. But if A.L. Brown wants to keep its stranglehold on the SPC, they will have to prove it on the field against the top tier of the league's teams.
"It's a huge challenge for our staff and team to be the favorite every year and continue to live up to that," said Wonders coach Ron Massey at the start of the season. "We have high expectations and no team wants to be that team that doesn't play up to our standards. I think that is a big motivation."
That will continue this week with Hickory Ridge. After struggling out of the gates in non-conference play, the Ragin' Bulls have righted the ship in SPC play and are looking for bragging rights.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Hickory Ridge, in its fourth season as a football program, has gotten progressively better each year, winning one game in its first season, five in year two and seven victories, including its first playoff win last year.
This season, the Ragin' Bulls hope to be even better. But like the Wonders, to get where they want to go, they will have to do it against the SPC's best.
"We look at the second part of the year as a whole different season," said Hickory Ridge football coach Marty Paxton. "Right now, conference is all that really matters. The next few weeks will tell us a lot about our team."
A.L. Brown (7-1)
After losing all-everything back Travis Riley in the season opener to a knee injury, which will likely keep him out for most of the season, the Wonders (7-1, 4-0 in the SPC) had to rediscover their identity.
After an early season loss to Thomasville, the Wonders have done just that and are now in full stride, as the offense has averaged more than 35 points per game in its current five-game win streak.
Senior quarterback Martel Campbell has been a big part of that, as he has thrown for over 1,000 yards and rushed for more than 350 yards.
The A.L. Brown running game has been split by committee, as Campbell, Demetrius Jackson, Xavier Stanback and Damien Washington have all contributed significantly.
When the Wonders need to pass, Teven Jones and Keeon Johnson have been reliable targets and big playmakers.
The Wonder defense, which holds opponents to less than 19 points per contest, is led by senior linebacker Andrew Leslie.
The Kannapolis family is on an emotional mission, as the team is focusing on honoring the memory of Dajon Torrence, a linebacker killed in the car crash earlier this month.
Hickory Ridge (4-4)
Hickory Ridge, which lost a close 10-7 game against Northwest Cabarrus Friday, has never beaten A.L. Brown in the short history of its program, but the Ragin' Bulls are hoping this is the year.
After struggling early on, Hickory Ridge (4-4, 3-1 in SPC) has found itself in conference play, mainly on the legs of all-conference tailback Brian Baltimore. The senior, who averages 160-plus rushing yards per game, has two 200-yard game this year and will need another big-time performance if the Ragin' Bulls are to pull off the upset.
The play of quarterback Jason Eury will also be key, as the junior needs to avoid big mistakes and turnovers for his team to stay in the game.
The Hickory Ridge defense, led by all-conference linebacker Dillon Burdette, who has recorded more than 80 tackles, will also need a great effort. The Ragin' Bulls need to contain the Wonder rushing attack and keep it off the field as much as possible.
If the Ragin' Bulls can make it a low-scoring slug-fest, they will have a chance to beat the Wonders for the first time.