The “Battle of the Pines” has returned.
This Friday, Union Pines and Pinecrest will face off at Union Pines in the series that had been dubbed the “Battle of the Pines” before it was suspended after the game in 2010 ended with a fight that resulted in ejections for players from both teams.
Those ejections also made both teams ineligible for postseason play.
But this is a new day, and Monday morning, players, coaches and administrators from both teams gathered to break bread together, sharing a breakfast at Sizzlin’ Steak or Eggs in Southern Pines.
Before eating, a press conference was held, with Viking head coach Lonnie Cox and his players Rory Board and Holden Graner representing Union Pines and Patriot head coach Chris Metzger and his players Levi Bear and Nick Boulanger representing Pinecrest.
Pinecrest athletic director Jeff Hewitt initiated the proceedings by emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship in Friday’s contest that starts at 7:30 p.m. at Woodrow Wilhoit Stadium.
“Friday night is important for us,” he said. “It’s an important night for Pinecrest and Union Pines, but it is also an important thing for our community.
“The No. 1 thing to understand is how important sportsmanship is for this game.”
Cox, who is in his first year leading the Viking program, said the game would not make or break the season, and that the two teams just needed to play football and let the results take care of themselves.
“I do think it’s a tremendous opportunity for two schools in Moore County to get together and play a hard-fought football game,” he said. “Afterward, we need to shake hands and do what is right for Moore County.
“I haven’t downplayed this game at all, and I know it is very important to this community. At the same time, us getting into the playoffs at the end of the season is not going to be based on this game.”
Metzger pointed out that the players on both teams have known each other since they were young.
“You know, Rory grew up coming to our camps,” he said. “A lot of their kids are kids we know — Jacob (Bowbliss), Tyreek (McCoy), Archie (Chandler) — we’ve known them since they were little kids. We’ve seen them play. It’s going to be fun to see our kids compete against each other and do it in a first-class manner.”
Board, who is Union Pines starting quarterback, goes to the same church as Ben Garbark, Pinecrest’s starting quarterback. He said he knows many Patriot players from middle school and parks and recreation football.
“I’ve know Ben a long time,” said Board. “There’s plenty of other people in here I’ve known for a while and played football with, so now it’s really cool to finally get a chance to play each other and see how it goes.”
Bear, who has been on the sidelines for eight years at Pinecrest, first as a ball boy and now as a player, said all the players just needed to “keep our cool.”
“We’re going to have cool heads, hot hearts and just play football,” he said.
Boulanger put it plainly: “We’re all excited just like they are. We just want to play football.”
Union Pines competes on the 3-A level while Pinecrest is a 4-A school.
Both teams have played three games so far this season with the Vikings going 2-1 and the Patriots 3-0. Pinecrest, after opening with a close 21-13 win over Concord, has blown away the other two opponents, beating Southern Lee 63-10 and R.J. Reynolds 52-14.
Union Pines opened with a comeback 24-19 win over Montgomery Central. The Vikings lost at St. Pauls 48-13 in week two, but bounced back to defeat North Moore 33-3 last Friday.