For fans of Cecil County high school football, the idea of Rising Sun and North East playing in a division championship game might seem a little foreign.
But that will be the case when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Rising Sun. Winner will be crowned Susquehanna Division champions.
“We’ve got a community excited, a school excited, the kids on our team are excited,” Indians coach Chris Schleich said. “A lot of them understand the historic perspective for North East and our football program, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying to approach it as that ‘Backyard Brawl’ type of mentality. It’s just simply Rising Sun. They’re are rival. The kids grew up playing against each other. They know each other.”
In the past five years, both programs have endured winless seasons. The Tigers went 0-10 in 2014. In 2016-17, they won three games combined. Head coach Clem Vaughan returned in 2018 after several years away from coaching and led Rising sun to a 7-3 mark and a Susquehanna title in his first season back on the sideline.
“That’s pretty fantastic. I hadn’t even thought of it,” Vaughan said of the way both school have risen their football programs. “Both programs have come a long way in a relatively short time.”
North East endured back-to-back winless campaigns in 2015-16. In 2017, Schleich’s second season, the Indians went 6-4.
“I don’t really focus on Rising Sun’s program. I know that they did have a couple down years. Two years ago, when we had that successful season, I know that they struggled. Then, Clem came back as coach and he’s revived the program,” he said. “When I first got here, I got laughed at by people and I’m not kidding. I got asked if I was crazy taking that program. ‘Fifteen years of losing, you’re not going to be able to turn it around. Nobody can. It’s a culture of losing.’ We’re not like that anymore.”
A win Saturday would give North East its first division title since the formation of the UCBAC nearly 20 years ago.
Rising Sun aims for its season in as many seasons.
“We haven’t really even talked about,” Vaughan said. “At the end of practice, I give them a little talk everyday. One of the kids said ‘We’re looking for back-to-back titles here.’ I said ‘I haven’t even thought about it, but we are. We’re looking for back-to-back titles and that means a lot.’ As a program, it’d kind of keep things moving into in the right direction.”
Vaughan said it appears that the Tigers will travel to Parkside in the first round of playoffs regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
North East and Rising Sun typically line up in different formations, but both teams utilize a ground-and-pound offense. The Indians are more of a power team, while the Tigers run the Wing-T.
“We’re concerned with their ground-and-pound game. We want to make sure we stay in our gaps and control our gaps and are in the cutback lanes,” Vaughan said. “I think Jachai [Graham] is a pretty good runner and they’re big up front. We’ve got to be ready for that, them pushing us around. We can’t let it happen. I think the kids are up to the task.”
Schleich said North East needs to account for the way Rising Sun overloads the side they run to.
“Football is a mathematical game and Clem’s offense is built on good mathematics,” he said. “When I watch film, they’re able to mathematically outmatch people on the midline. A lot of teams, when you watch film, they beat that way. We believe that our mathematical matchup will give our defense a good shot at shutting them down.”
Follow Sean Grogan on Twitter: @Sean_CecilWhig