The city's football rivalry between Aiken and South Aiken high schools has taken on several different forms since its 1981 debut.
The latest rounds of South Carolina High School League realignment have resulted in the Hornets and Thoroughbreds playing one another in region play in late September in each of the last three seasons.
The previous 15 meetings were either non-region games in late August – each school spent two years in Class AAA while the other remained in AAAA – or early November games at the end of the regular season.
The most unique years in the rivalry, though, were the six different times the schools played twice in the same season – two of those years included a do-or-die playoff matchup.
We'll start in 1988, though, which is when the SCHSL allowed for an 11th game to be added to the schedule. The game was not to count in region play or for playoff points, and some coaches viewed them as mere exhibition games. Others took the opportunity to cash in at the gate and open the season against their rival in addition to the traditional November meeting.
At the time, playing another game against Aiken was the third choice of South Aiken head coach Larry Nelson, who tried unsuccessfully to get Barnwell and then Batesburg-Leesville on the schedule. His reasoning was sound – should the Hornets and T-Breds be paired in the playoffs, they'd play three times in one season.
That still hasn't happened, but it was only off by one year. Aiken and South Aiken bookended each others' schedules each season from 1988-91, and the teams met in the first round of the playoffs in 1992 after they moved up from Class AAA to AAAA.
The Hornets swept the series in 1988 and '89, and the teams split in each of the next two seasons.
Fred Walker and Eric Green tormented the T-Breds in '88. Walker had an interception return for a touchdown in both games, and Green followed up a 176-yard performance in the opener with a 59-yard touchdown run in No. 3 Aiken's 14-7 win in the finale. The Hornets out-gained the T-Breds 235-50 in the opener and overcame penalties and turnovers in a 19-0 win.
The next season, Shed Harris picked up where Walker and Green left off. Harris rushed for 240 yards combined and scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner in sixth-ranked Aiken's 16-10 Nov. 3 win. Marcelle Hamilton recovered a drive-killing fumble deep in Aiken territory and also intercepted a pass in the Hornets' 10-7 win to open the season.
The T-Breds snapped their four-game losing streak to the Hornets in 1990 and swept the season series. On Aug. 24, South Aiken held Aiken to 37 yards rushing and sophomore quarterback Tiernan McMillan took an option keeper 17 yards for the only points in South Aiken's 7-0 win.
The Nov. 2 game was one of the wildest in the history of the rivalry. Aiken had a late lead and was prepared to punt from deep in its own territory. But there was confusion among the punt team, which resulted in an unplanned, unexpected and obviously unsuccessful fake. Tim Johnson kicked a field goal as time expired to send it to overtime, where Lee Williams scored his third touchdown of the game to put South Aiken up 24-17. Harris answered with a touchdown, and Aiken decided to go for two from the 1-yard line after South Aiken was whistled for encroachment. No good.
The teams split in 1991, with Aiken taking the opener in Doug Painter's head coaching debut. The Hornets held the T-Breds to 50 yards of offense, and Cedric Johnson's 1-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter produced the only points. On Nov. 8, Aiken won the yardage battle 353-162 but committed seven turnovers and had a bad snap on the potential game-tying extra point attempt in a 14-13 loss. South Aiken's Corey West intercepted three passes in the first half and recovered a fumble in the third quarter.
South Aiken's win in 1991 was the T-Breds' fourth of six in a row on their way to the Class AAA Lower State championship game. The Hornets one-upped them the next year by winning 11 straight on their way to a state title.
Two of those wins came against South Aiken, and they were in back-to-back weeks. Aiken won 21-7 on Nov. 6 after trailing at the half, and the schools matched up in the first round of the playoffs the following Friday. Aiken overcame a 19-14 deficit in the fourth quarter for a 22-19 win, one of several come-from-behind victories that year.
The schools last pulled a double in 2005, when the Hornets were more than a decade into their win streak over the T-Breds. On Nov. 4, Aiken rolled to a 28-0 halftime lead in a 35-14 win that clinched a third consecutive region championship. The next week, Marquette Gilliam's 5-yard touchdown run with 2:43 to go produced the winning points in Aiken's 24-21 win, the Hornets' 13th straight in the series.
It's been 13 years since it last happened, and the current state of scheduling and playoff seeding makes it seem like it will be many more years before the rivalry is again twice as nice – unless, of course, somewhere down the road both programs find ways to make deep playoff runs to meet in their highest-stakes matchup yet.