HUNTERSVILLE – There hasn’t been much back-and-forth in the “Shield” football rivalry lately.
The trophy – a gold and silver inscribed Shield of Victory – has spent the past five years at Hopewell High. The winner of the annual Hopewell vs. North Mecklenburg High game retains the shield for a year.
The rivalry began in 2001, when Hopewell was formed from North Mecklenburg’s attendance zone. The shield debuted two years later in the 2003 game, which Hopewell won.
Winning players joyously hoist the shield, making sure everyone gets a hand or two on it. Many give the steel a kiss. They parade it toward fans in the stands, hug it, take photos with it and know they’ve got bragging rights for the ensuing year.
This year’s game – 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at North Mecklenburg – will have added importance. Hopewell must win to have a chance at the N.C. 4A playoffs. Seedings will be announced Oct. 27. The Titans are 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the I-MECK 4A conference.
It’s been a rebuilding season for North Mecklenburg and first-year coach Brad Baker. The Vikings are 2-7 overall and 1-5 in conference.
The playoffs won’t happen for North Meck, but it hasn’t lessened the spirit on campus. The shield remains a high priority.
“We’re not having a great season, but there are posters all around school about the game,” Baker said. “It brings out enthusiasm for the entire student body. It’s something we can build on. It is important to our kids.”
Ditto for Hopewell. Titans coach David Johnson said he doesn’t have to remind his team of this week’s opponent.
“It’s North,” he said. “If they’re not emotionally ready to go, that’s on them. It’s North, it’s for the shield, it’s for the playoffs. No motivational speeches needed.”
Hopewell athletics director Jamie Billings has been the unofficial caretaker of the shield. After winning against North Mecklenburg last season, Billings said the shield spent a couple weeks on display in the school office. Then it found a home in Billings’ office for safety reasons.
The shield will head east a few miles Oct. 26, in case the game score dictates it change hands and spend a year at North Mecklenburg. Or, it could travel back to Hopewell.
The rivalry is still intense, but doesn’t have the overall we’re-kings-of-northern-Mecklenburg feel that it did a decade ago. That’s because Hough High opened three years ago and drew students who previously had attended Hopewell and North Mecklenburg.
The three nearby schools will eventually build rivalries among themselves, but it doesn’t dampen the intensity when North Mecklenburg and Hopewell meet.
Both teams have losing records this season. Doesn’t matter.
Hopewell’s won five straight in the series. Doesn’t affect this game.
Hough’s (9-1) having a better season. This doesn’t concern them.
“It’s awesome,” North Meck’s Baker said. “We don’t have to talk about it much. I tell our players that motivational speeches may last for a few plays, but you’ve still got to play the game well. Even though we’ve been in a bind lately, our players have fought through the entire game. I love the desire our kids have shown.
“I think we’ve done some good things. They’re visible on the inside, maybe not so much on our (won-loss) record.”
North Mecklenburg is on a four-game losing streak. Hopewell lost 39-35 to Vance last week and dropped to fourth place in the conference. The Titans were in a similar situation last season. They had a 4-6 record heading into the North Mecklenburg game, won 33-6 and received a state playoff bid the following morning.
The series, which Hopewell leads 7-4, has had some bizarre moments in its 11-year history. In 2003, a streaker bolted across the field (he was caught and arrested). In 2004, with 12 minutes left, the lights went out at North Mecklenburg’s stadium and the game ended early (North won 22-8). And in 2007, two Hopewell students and a then-recent graduate flew a small Cessna airplane about 75 feet above the field three times. The pilot was charged with two misdemeanors and suspended from school.
‘Shield of Victory’ history
2011 Hopewell 33, North Meck 6
2010 Hopewell 33, North Meck 28
2009 Hopewell 42, North Meck 7
2008 Hopewell 28, North Meck 17
2007 Hopewell 27, North Meck 21
2006 North Meck 21, Hopewell 13
2005 Hopewell 12, North Meck 12
2004 North Meck 22, Hopewell 8
2003 Hopewell 40, North Meck 18
2002 North Meck 17, Hopewell 6
2001 North Meck 69, Hopewell 0