Ever since the teams played for the first time in 1981, Aiken and South Aiken have met at least once every year.
While the rivalry has had plenty of ups and downs for both teams, there’s something that hasn’t happened: South Aiken has never beaten Aiken three times in a row. Even with the teams playing twice a year at points, the Thoroughbreds are on the verge of history after victories in 2012 and 2013.
“It’d be a big win,” South Aiken head coach Jeremy West said of a potential victory in tonight’s game. “Any time you get a chance to beat your rival, it’s a big win.”
Before the T-Breds backed up their 28-21 win in 2012 by topping the Hornets 23-6 in 2013, Aiken had a four-game winning streak in the rivalry. In fact, the Hornets had won 18 of 19 in the series it still leads 29-10 all time.
South Aiken had also only won back-to-back games once before, when the team played twice during the 1990 season.
Ed Girardeau, who does play-by-play for the Aiken Standard Game of the Week, played at Aiken in the late 1970s and served as South Aiken’s public address announcer in the 2000s. Those roles create an “interesting dichotomy” for Girardeau, who said Aiken’s dominance of the rivalry overall would make a third straight win even sweeter for the T-Breds.
“It would mean a lot to South Aiken,” he said. “South Aiken has always lived in the shadow of Aiken High.”
The current T-Bred winning streak works both ways, though. As much as South Aiken would like to also keep the good vibes going that it cultivated with back-to-back wins to end last season, Aiken will be looking to stop the momentum.
Eddie Buck, head coach at Aiken from 1975-87 before serving as an assistant coach at South Aiken until 2011, expected the Hornets were well aware of their rivals’ recent success.
“That’s a motivator right there,” he said of the current streak and the potential for Aiken to get its first win of the year while breaking it. “I think that’d be a great confidence booster for them, too.”
Aiken head coach Brian Neal said he wasn’t aware that his Hornets had never been beaten three straight times by the rivals. In his second year at the helm, Neal was informed by his players earlier this week.
“Players are very much aware of it,” he said. “That was something I didn’t have to bring it to their attention.”
Jaylen Smith, a senior defensive back for the Hornets, confirmed the players’ focus on the rivalry. While he was on the roster in 2011 as a freshman for the last Aiken win over South Aiken, he noted that none of his teammates – even other seniors – had been part of a rivalry win. Similarly, there were no freshmen on the 2011 roster for South Aiken.
That, Smith said, would make a win tonight “something special” for the Hornets.
“We don’t like to lose,” he said. “But we definitely don’t like South Aiken, so we definitely want to beat them.”
Neal, whose squad lost 17-10 to Strom Thurmond last week, said he planned to use that awareness to his advantage, to “get us going a little bit.” West is employing a similar strategy ahead of what’s also his team’s season opener. He isn’t underselling the point.
“I tell them, ‘This is a chance to make history,’” West said.
The message has gotten across, at least to junior kicker Owen Myers. An All-Aiken Standard first-team selection a year ago, Myers hopes the T-Breds are setting themselves up for “a lot more wins” over their rivals.
“It would mean a lot to us, and it would show that we are going to be the people that run this town,” he said. “It would give us a lot of confidence going into our season.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman South Aiken head coach Jeremy West watches practice leading up to the team’s season opener against Aiken.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Aiken's Austin Schofield participates in practice ahead of the Hornets' rivalry game against South Aiken.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman Aiken head coach Brian Neal, center, watches his team practice. Also pictured are assistants Brian Mabry, left, and Leon Pope.×