Edgefield County doesn't share much in common with North Augusta in many aspects. But they do share several qualities that are the perfect ingredients for a good football rivalry, especially with the strong fan base Strom Thurmond High School's football program has.
The two schools, separated by about 25 miles, have formed one of the area's best rivalries.
"I know Saluda is our rival, but at the same time I think this game is little bit bigger than Saluda," Strom Thurmond head coach Antwaun Hillary said. "We've always been looked down upon, but we always feel like if we can win this one we gain some momentum."
Not only is it a bit bigger, it's also a rivalry which tends to produce memorable moments and games.
OT and the now notorious play
The last home game in the rivalry will linger in head coach Antwaun Hillary's head for a while. In 2016 the Rebels and Yellow Jackets battled in a four overtime game that featured a bit of everything a football fan could ask for. What was a 14-14 game after four quarters turned into a wild four overtime game that ended with a 41-38 North Augusta victory in 2016.
"It was just two good teams fighting it out until the end," Hillary said. "It was hard to lose that one, and it was just one of those things that stay in your head a long time."
Strom Thurmond stayed in the game by reverting to a trick play, which has become somewhat notorious after the Philadelphia Eagles used it in their Super Bowl victory against New England in February. The Rebels' version required a little more flash on the part of the receiver turned quarterback, Rashad Bryant, who had to use a spin move to avoid being sacked before delivering a touchdown pass.
The start of something special
Former head coach Lee Sawyer credits a victory over North Augusta with giving the Strom Thurmond program a confidence boost which paved the way to the program becoming one of the state powerhouses for several years. In 2004, Strom Thurmond held on to defeat North Augusta in a 20-18 thriller. In that game, Sawyer's first as head coach, Strom Thurmond snapped a seven-game losing streak to North Augusta – and started a three game winning streak against its rivals.
"That was my favorite memory (from the rivalry). It was the first time it had been done in a long time, and I think that gave our kids a lot of confidence and kind of jumpstarted our program," Sawyer said. "It gave them confidence that they could beat a bigger school. It gave them confidence in me as a new head coach."
Sawyer and Hillary both share the thought process that playing North Augusta is something that makes the team better.
"Playing in that big game environment in front of a big crowd and right before region play was good for our team," Sawyer said.
A good part of any rivalry is taking some joy in raining on your opponent's parade. The Rebels have also had a tendency to ruin debuts for the Yellow Jackets. In 2006 Strom Thurmond defeated North Augusta in Dan Pippin's first game as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets. In 2015, the Rebels beat the Yellow Jackets in the first game played on North Augusta's newly installed turf. Two occurrences that aren't necessarily the most important of bragging rights for the Rebels, but those involved in the rivalry still enjoy pointing them out.
Eric Russell is the sports editor at the Aiken Standard. Contact him at 803-644-2396.