PICKENS COUNTY - Despite all the bad blood in years past, Pickens head Coach Brett Turner and Easley head Coach Jabo Burgess like to call games between their schools "a friendly rivalry."
Both coaches share similar Christian beliefs; both openly admit to respect the other's program tremendously; both coaches played for their alma mater and served on their school's assistant coaching staff before being promoted to head coach.
And it goes beyond the friendship between the coaches.
"I think our guys and their players are pretty much friends," Burgess said. "They grew up playing each other, and have earned each other's respect. It ain't like the old days when you didn't know anybody except the people going to your school. These guys go to church together and get together and have fun from time to time."
Does that mean the rivalry is no longer intense?
"Oh, heaven's no," Burgess said. "I don't think there's any fist fight about it like the old days, but you can bet players on the losing team have to take a lot of ribbing for a year. I think it's because of the good job Coach Turner does and the way we try to teach our guys that there's more to life than just football. Sure, you want to go out there and give everything you've got on the field. But after the game's over, it's over."
The Green Wave has won four straight going into Friday night's game between the schools at Bruce Field in Pickens. Burgess has been head coach for the past three.
"It really could have gone the other way," Burgess said. "Every year, we've been fortunate to come out with a win. I can't say enough about the job Coach Turner and his staff does with their young men. They're always in the game, waiting for you to make a key mistake."
Turner, on the other hand is winless so far against the Green Wave.
"I don't see this game defining me or my team," Turner said. "Certainly, we want to win every time we step on the field, but we don't want to lose this game and let that affect the rest of our season. Likewise, if we win, we don't want that to overshadow the opportunity to accomplish more in the remaining games of the year. If I retire and people say I never beat Easley, I can live with that. But if they say I didn't do all I could to help these young men improve as football players and as people, I would have problems accepting that."
Pickens has a good chance of ending its four year drought in the series Friday night. The Blue Flame enters with a 2-0 record, having easily handled AA teams Walhalla and Liberty in the opening weeks of the season. While the competition level may not have been high, the Blue Flame's dominance has proven that Pickens will be a challenge for every team they face his season.
Easley enters Friday's game with a 0-2 record, losing badly in its opener to Hillcrest, but giving AAA powerhouse Daniel all the Lions could handle in a 14-7 loss two Fridays ago.
Pickens' offense is led by Kelby Jones, a running back who has tallied more than100 yards in each game this season. The Blue Flame hasn't been flashy, but has been steady and strong, piling up 89 points in the first two games of the season.
Easley is led by freshman quarterback Zach Lappin. With a freshman starting at quarterback at the varsity level, the Green Wave team is still forming around Lappin. Two weeks ago, after Easley fell behind Daniel 14-0, the Green Wave defense denied the Lions from any more points, while Lappin and the offense scored one touchdown and mounted impressive drives in the second half.
Burgess doesn't believe in moral victories, but he won't deny how much his team improved from its first game to its second. Last week Easley had a bye on Friday night, which didn't play into Burgess's hand.
"We're itching to get back on the field right now," Burgess said. "Our challenge is to use this extra week to continue to improve, and to keep the momentum we build in the second half of the Daniel game."
Easley leads the all-time series 35-16-1
The series began in 1923 with the Green Wave taking 7-6 win. The series was pretty even in the early years, but after Easley won 66-0 in 1936, the series between the rivals was stopped and not played for 20 years.
Easley began a 10-year winning streak over the Blue Flame in 1960, culminating in the Green Wave's 65-6 win in 1969. Again, the series was stopped until 1982, when Pickens topped Easley 21-0. Since then the series has had a few gaps, but mostly been played steadily.
Pickens last wins came during Easley's 29-game losing streak earlier this decade. In fact, the Green Wave ended its losing streak on Bruce Field four years ago, topping Pickens 13-10 in overtime.
After the game, Green Wave fans returned to Brice Field in Easley to tear down the goal post on their home field.
Burgess, at 3-0, has the best record percentage-wise of any Green Wave coach against the Blue Flame. Only Dexter Jones, who led Easley to a win over Pickens during the school's first year of football (and his only year as head coach) never suffered a loss to the Blue Flame.
With a win Friday Burgess can surpass Green Wave legend J.C. Brice (3-2) and Mike Anthony (3-1) in total wins over Pickens. Still ahead of Burgess in that category are Bill Carr (9-1), Larry Bagwell (8-2) and Mike Barnes (6-4).