SouthWest Edgecombe's Gerald Hinton, left, and Tarboro's Todd Gurley, face off on Wednesday on SouthWest Edgecombe High School.

Telegram photo / Emma Tannenbaum

SouthWest Edgecombe's Gerald Hinton, left, and Tarboro's Todd Gurley, face off on Wednesday on SouthWest Edgecombe High School.

THE BEST IN TOWN: "Function at the Junction" returns

By Justin Hite

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When SouthWest Edgecombe and Tarboro face off, it means something.

Even when it doesn’t mean
everything.

After back-to-back years of this matchup deciding the Eastern Plains Conference champion, it won’t this season.

Tonight’s game still means something. It’s just something
different.

“When you play football for Tarboro or SouthWest, it’s special,” SouthWest Edgecombe coach Raymond Cobb said. “... It’s 2011, and it’s about this year. It’s about these two teams playing. For the kids on the Tarboro team and the SouthWest team, this is an important game.”

Tarboro won, 32-16, at home last year and eventually took the conference title on the way to an undefeated state championship run.

Two years ago, SouthWest Edgecombe edged the Vikings, 22-16, at home. The Cougars went on to a 15-1 record, won the conference, but lost in the third round of the state playoffs – two games from the state championship.

That won’t happen this year. At least not unless one team is really lucky.

This year, SouthWest Edgecombe is fighting for a playoffs berth. Ten minutes away, Tarboro needs plenty of help to win the conference.

In the past, there has been so much on the line when these two teams face off.

There’s still plenty on the line. It’s just
different.

After an 0-4 start, SouthWest Edgecombe (2-5, 2-2 Eastern Plains Conference) needs to win two of its last three games to make the playoffs. Tarboro (5-2, 2-1) has only lost twice this season, but last week’s loss to Kinston put the Vikings 1.5 games out of the top spot in the conference – behind Kinston.

The change in standings position won’t make a difference tonight.

“It really doesn’t,” Tarboro coach Jeff Craddock said. “It’s SouthWest Edgecombe, and that’s all anybody needs to say. Records don’t matter.”

The rivalry, which splits two schools separated by eight miles, also runs through families and friends. It has become more than a rivalry game. It’s an event that fans, players, and coaches from both teams look forward to
attending.

“I just love it,” Craddock said. “The people are excited about it. Edgecombe County is excited about it. It kind of brings everybody together for one night. Even though it’s separate sides of the field.”

What also makes this rivalry special for Craddock, and even bolsters the respect between the players, is the relationships between the
coaches.

Craddock swaps stories with SouthWest Edgecombe assistant coach Jeff Gould, who stops by Tarboro High School to talk about games. He does the same with Cougars assistant head coach Tommy
Tolson.

“We know those kids over at SouthWest Edgecombe,” Craddock said. “They know us. ... It gets talked about more because of that close relationship. They are 10 minutes away from us. There’s a little bit of a different aspect to it because of the familiarity with the program and the players and the coaches. The players see that.”

Then there’s Craddock’s relationship with Cobb. The two talk all the time during the football season, and Craddock said that he has learned a lot from the coach he’ll face tonight.

“The bad part is one of us has to lose the game,” Craddock said. “I root for him to win every single game he plays – other than this one. I think the feeling is mutual. ... It’s a great respectful rivalry. I think the coaches kind of lend into that because there’s so much respect among the coaches, that it goes through the players. It adds a little element of excitement to the game.”

All that added excitement should pull fans in from every corner of Edgecombe County. The crowds in the past have been big, an estimated 5,000 people the past two years, and the implications have been, too. The past three games between these two schools have been decided by a combined 26 points. The past two games at SouthWest Edgecombe High were even tighter – a pair of six-point victories for the Cougars.

“The game means just as much this year as it ever has,” Craddock said. “We are solely focused on going over there and playing the best possible game we could play. We all know that’s what it’s going to take. We never pay attention to the records. It’s a great high school football game, and we are just excited to be a part of it.”

Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or at jhite@rmtelegram.com.