The football rivalry between Triton and Harnett Central is tied 12-12, but more than bragging rights will be at stake as the Hawks host the Trojans tonight at 7 p.m.
For the third straight year, the teams will be playing for the Heister Belt, provided by the Lillington car dealer.
If Central wins, it will be the No. 1 seed from the 3-A ranks from the All American Conference for the playoffs that start next week.
A Hawks victory would mean a playoff berth as a No. 2 seed with Terry Sanford getting the AAC’s top 3-A seeding.
“It’s a huge game for both schools,” said Triton coach Ben Penny. “The last time Triton and Harnett Central played for something meaningful at the end of the year was 2008 when we played for the conference championship. …
“Harnett Central has come a long way in the last few years. Coach (Cory) Barnes has done a great job turning things around.”
Barnes is a former Triton quarterback and assistant coach on staffs that included Penny. He was head coach at North Johnston and Midway before moving to Central.
Senior backs J.J. Cowan, A.J. Dewar and Camauri McDougald are two-way standouts for the Hawks (6-3, 4-2 AAC).
The Trojans (4-5, 4-2) count on quarterback Aiden Taylor and running back Ethyn Muhammad for production offensively.
Neither team is assured of a playoff berth with a loss although the potential scenarios are better for Triton.
It will be Senior Night for Triton, the last regular season home game.
“At the end of the day, it’s a Triton-Harnett Central game,” Penny said. “You’re ready to show up and play your best game in those situations. … Coach Barnes and I are very good friends. Our families get together. The kids love each other.
“You’re friends with them, but it makes you sometimes want to beat them that much more, a friendly rivalry so to speak.”
The Hawks have wins in the series in 1993, 1994, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2015-2018 and have taken the last three.
Central won in 2001, 2002 and prevailed in eight straight from 2004 to 2011 before victories in 2014 and 2019.
The teams didn’t meet from 1985 to 1992 and 1995 to 2000 when the programs were in different classifications and conferences.
Penny said issues which resulted in the stands being cleared in the late stages of a home win over Westover on Sept. 29 have been addressed.
“We’re expecting a very big crowd,” said the Triton coach. “We hope the fans come to watch the football game and cheer for their team, make the environment a special environment and nothing else.”
The Hawks are scheduled to recognize 22 senior players at 6:30 p.m.