The fall of 2006 was a magical time for me. Always will be.
That’s when the East Gaston High School (my alma mater, 2003) football team won 11 games and made it to the third round of the state playoffs.
Since opening in 1972 in Mount Holly, N.C., East Gaston’s forte has never been varsity football. But that season was different.
After a season-opening loss at East Lincoln, the Warriors rolled off eight straight wins, including a rare (you only realize how rare if you’re an East Gaston alum) victory over bitter rival South Point. (That’s the last time East has defeated the Red Raiders.) The Warriors lost at Crest before defeating Forestview to close the regular season at 9-2.
The Warriors won two games in the playoffs against Ashbrook and Mount Tabor before losing in the West regional semifinals to West Charlotte. East closed the season 11-3. But the Warrior pride of the strong run that year lives forever for the team and for EG alumni, as do the legendary names of quarterback Stephan McQuage, running backs Jas Hopkins and Darius Abernathy, and receivers Michael McDowell and Marquis Sanders. (The word legendary is appropriate in Warriors lore because of the stats these guys put up. I could overload you with the eye-popping numbers here, but I won’t. If you’re interested, just ask the folks in the Gaston Gazette sports department to share a couple for you.)
During East’s run in the fall of 2006, I was a college senior at Gardner-Webb University, just an hour from East Gaston in Mount Holly. Since I was so close I got to see almost all of the games (sadly, I missed the South Point win because it was senior night at Gardner-Webb), and I even got to share a few with good friends of mine. I took a carload of five to the Warriors’ game at Hunter Huss in Gastonia that October.
Now, 10 years later in 2016, Huss is a common link to a present-day success story. The Huss Huskies are 10-3 and, like my Warriors in 2006, they’re headed to the third round of the state playoffs. Like West Charlotte did for East Gaston, a formidable and perennial football power, Shelby, stands in line for Huss’ hopes of advancing to an eventual state championship game.
I’ve been enjoying Hunter Huss’ football season alongside my wife Molly, a second-year teacher at Huss. Several of her senior English students are defensive leaders for the Huskies, and we’ve been fortunate to cheer them on to home wins over Parkwood (49-24) and RS Central (41-0).
The fall of 2016 will always be a magical time for Hunter Huss Football, for my wife’s students, for my wife and now for me, too. And it’s a memory, 10 years apart, from that magical fall of 2006 that illustrates one of the main reasons sports has so much power for me.
You don’t have to know all of the rules or track the statistics to enjoy a good success story on the field. (And in these cases historic success stories that don’t come around just every year.) Those 2006 East Gaston football players and these 2016 Hunter Huss football players lived some of the greatest times of their entire lives during the playoff experiences. And as a big sports fan with ties to both magical tales, they’re exciting times in my life, too.
You know how a great song transports you back in time to a moment you associate it with? That’s what this Hunter Huss football season is doing for me, taking me back to the days of my early 20s when East Gaston Football was superb. Sports moments have a way of connecting our past and our present, and that’s one of the greatest joys of being a fan. Long live Warrior pride! And Go Huskies!