Entering the 2021 high school football season, the Week 3 rivalry matchup between North Sand Mountain and Section was expected to have major implications.
Now with that game days away, it is indeed a high-stakes showdown for the Lions and Bison, just not the way many observers thought it would.
After both teams suffered surprise six-point losses in their Class 2A Region 7 openers, the rivals look to avoid an 0-2 region start when they square off Friday night at 7 p.m. at Section High School.
“There is,” said Section head coach Chris Hammon when asked if both teams enter the game with a sense of urgency. “We’re both 0-1 (in the region) and both in desperate need of getting a region win.”
“These region games are so important and you don’t want to dig yourself a hole,” said NSM head coach Keith Kirby, whose team won the region championship in 2020. “We’ve still got a shot in the region, but we’ve got to start taking care of business.”
Friday’s game is the 48th meeting between the teams in an ultra-competitive series that NSM leads 24-22-1. The Bison have won four straight against Section, whose last win in the series came in 2014. The teams did not play in 2016-2017. Section has played NSM more times than any other opponent in program history while NSM has played only Pisgah (50) and Ider (49) more times than it has played Section.
Both teams are coming off tough region losses.
NSM (0-2, 0-1) led 7-0 until late in the game during a 13-7 loss at home to Ider while Section (2-1, 0-1) fell 20-14 at Tanner in a game that was scoreless at halftime.
Hammon said the Lions must “refocus and realize it was one game and that we still have opportunities in front of us if we learn from our mistakes.”
Meanwhile, NSM is looking to jumpstart its offense after getting its defensive going last week.
“Dade County (in Week 1) shell-shocked us, but last week, we played with the more passion, energy and enthusiasm we’re supposed to,” Kirby said. “Our defense played well, but we’ve still got to cut out the explosive plays. Offensively we’ve got to start finishing drives, quit turning it over — we had four turnovers and Ider had zero and you usually won’t win when that happens — and quit having penalties.”
Kirby called Section “an all-around solid football team” with “athletes all over the field. We’ve got to find a way to stop their skill guys. We can’t give up explosive plays.”
Despite NSM’s tough start, Hammon said the Bison won’t be fazed by it.
“Coach Kirby has done a great job of building a culture there where their kids believe they can win,” he said. “They’ve got a real good football team. They’re experienced in their lines and (Derek) Bearden is a really good athlete they move all around.”
The game is the home opener for Section. It’s also the first time the Lions have hosted NSM since the 2018 season.