FORT MILL — Despite being a young rivalry, the importance of the Nation Ford-Fort Mill annual clash on the gridiron seems to increase each season.
This Friday will be no different.
Now in its sixth year, the Milltown Showdown has a lot on the line for the third straight season.
Nation Ford has set a school record with seven wins this season; Fort Mill clinched a winning record and is going for its second playoff berth in three seasons. Nation Ford locked up a playoff spot last week and now sits third in Region III-AAAA while Fort Mill and York are now tied for fourth in the region going into the final week.
York faces a winless Clover squad and should be no problem beating the Blue Eagles in its final regular season game.
Fort Mill (6-4, 3-3) has Nation Ford (7-3, 4-2) at Falcons Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m. In the past, Fort Mill hasnt had an issue beating Nation Ford, coming out on top in the first five encounters; However, this years Falcons squad has been the best yet since the school opened in 2007.
They are talented and have a ton of skilled kids and they give match-up problems to everybody they play, said Fort Mill head coach Ed Susi. They are obviously doing something right on defense. They stopped York and we had no answer for York, so they are hitting on all cylinders right now.
Two years ago, Fort Mill beat Nation Ford and clinched its first playoff berth in years. Last year, despite the Jackets win over Nation Ford, it was the Falcons who earned a trip to the playoffs the teams first.
Susi said familiarity makes both teams step up, and now more seems to be riding on the rivalry game as each program has gotten better over the years.
Our region is brutal, Susi said. We have a very competitive region. There is a possibility for five teams making it out of the region this year. Our region will prepare you for a playoff game.
While Nation Ford is playing for post season positioning, Fort Mill, coming off a big win over Clover, is playing to just to get in the tournament. Susi said his kids know they have a chance to make the playoffs by beating Nation Ford and winning out.
You cant ask for nothing more than a chance, he said.
Fort Mill senior quarterback Rylan Wells said his team is treating it like a typical game.
You want to keep the streak alive, he said. You dont want to be the class that lost to them, but it is just as important as any other game. We will see what happens. We will be fine. We want to treat it like any other game.
Across town, Nation Ford is doing the same thing, but is aware of the historic implications. After having beaten York and Rock Hill for the first time ever, the Falcons are now gunning to do the same against Fort Mill.
Somebody has got to do it, so why not us? said Nation Ford junior quarterback Dalton Helms, regarding beating Fort Mill. That would be a big win for us. Every game is big, but that game is the biggest.
Falcons head coach Michael Allen agrees with his quarterback, but also reflects the same sentiments as Wells.
We are looking to build tradition, Allen said. Tradition is built week in and week out. Its a big game for the community and this year it will have some pretty big implications, but you have to treat it like every other game. You have to leave the excitement for the community, and the celebrations for the community, but you have to keep your football team focused and playing football just like any other given night. When it gets down to it, its about preparation.
Allen, in his second year with the team, does admit that his team is in its best position to finally clear that Fort Mill hurdle than it ever has been.
We are at a better position now as a football program than when I took the job, he said.
That is not just me, but the administration, the student body, the community, the players being all in. But when it gets down to a rivalry football game a lot of that you can throw out the window. Come Friday night you have got to play the game and the bottom line is we have yet to win that game. That is where we are.