Red and Green.
I’m not talking about Christmas colors, but rather those of Newton-Conover and Bandys high schools. One of these teams will receive a gift next week, as they square off in a classic confrontation in the Catawba Valley 2A.
The rivalry started when Eddy Clark decided to take the wrestling head coaching position at Newton-Conover.
“I took over this program in 1999,” Clark said. “That next year, we got good and won the conference. We beat Bandys. That set the stage, and it has been a heated rivalry.”
Since then, the teams engaged in hard-fought contests. From one-point victories to championship battles, the rivalry saw its share of moments.
In the 2004 season, the Red Devils finished 38-2. Both losses were to Bandys that season, and the Trojans claimed the state championship.
Last January, the last time the two teams met, it was a battle all the way until the end. The Red Devils snagged the close 31-30 victory.
“The last few years, we’ve had their number,” Clark said. “It is a good match. Records go out the window and who your star kids are in a rivalry match. Those star kids are going to wrestle well, but sometimes that goes out the window. There is a lot at stake. Nerves are sometimes a factor.”
This season, Newton-Conover is 31-3 and 2-0 in the Catawba Valley 2A. They are coming off of a thrashing 77-0 win over Draughn on Wednesday. The Red Devils only losses for the season were to teams in 3A and 4A.
Among the losses were to second-ranked Lake Norman in 4A, and third-ranked David County and St. Stephens in 3A.
“Sometimes those losses are better for you than the wins,” Clark said. “We had a big win against Foard, who was undefeated, on Saturday. We probably learned more from the David County match than the Foard match.”
The Trojans are 19-4 on the season. Bandys coach Sean McIntosh is anticipating the match.
“We look forward to competing against a great team like Newton-Conover,” said Bandys coach Sean McIntosh. “It gives our wrestlers a chance to see what we’re made off. Every year, we have a tight match with them. It makes for a competitive event and it’s good for the growing sport of wrestling in Catawba County.”
In a poll released by RetroRankings, a website that ranks high school wrestling in the state of North Carolina, both teams were ranked inside the top five in the dual team poll. The Red Devils were No. 2 and Bandys was No. 5.
With such close finishes between the two schools, there will be several key match ups between wrestlers that could affect the outcome of the match.
Among those to watch next week will be the 135-pound weight class. It will feature the No. 1 ranked wrestler in the state, senior Thomas Landsford of Bandys, going against fourth-ranked Newton-Conover junior Eric Holbrook.
Bandys freshman Jesse Oliver will face off against Newton-Conover freshman Coleman Carter in the 119-pound weight class. Oliver is ranked No. 6 in the state, while Carter is No. 7.
“Those freshmen don’t crack the top 10 much,” Clark said. “Here we have two of them.”
The two freshmen are familiar with one another because they competed against each other in middle school.
“When I got to Mill Creek, which is Bandys’ middle school program, I kept my own rivalry against (Jesse Oliver),” Carter said. “That has carried through the years. My regular season record both middle school years was 23-3, and all three losses came to Jesse.”
Carter is one of six freshmen starting for the Red Devils this season. He is familiar with the rivalry because he had two brothers, Chase and Ethan, who wrestled for Newton-Conover.
“I always remember my brother, Chase, going and seeing how intense it was when my brother was wrestling,” Carter said. “That is when I figured out how intense the rivalry was.”
Red Devil Tyler Knopp, who competed against the Trojans three times already, tried to be the voice of reason when talking to the team’s freshmen.
“All they can really do is go out and wrestle their match,” Knopp said. “We train every single day as hard as we can. The only way they can get ready is to fight hard in the practice room. That is how they get ready and that is how we get ready.”
While those two match ups may stick out to both coaches, Clark thinks its other matches that will determine the outcome.
“A lot of times in these big matches, it doesn’t come down to the No. 1 ranked kid in the state,” Clark said. “It comes down to the worst kid in your lineup against the worst kid in their lineup. We’ve matched up like that a couple of times against them, too.”