APEX — Between classes at Garner Magnet High School last week, Vincent Jeffries kept hearing the same thing from his classmates.
Hey Vince, we need this game, they told him. We really need you to step up.
Ten miles down the road at Middle Creek High School, Curtis Burston was sitting in his English class last Tuesday when his teacher told him she was going to the Friday home game against Garner. She had never gone to a Middle Creek football game, but shed be there Friday, she said, because I know its the biggest one of the year.
Jeffries, Garners starting quarterback, and Burston, Middle Creeks top wide receiver, are friends in a rivalry thats not always friendly. Even as their schools were engulfed by the buildup before last Fridays Garner-Middle Creek football game, they kept in touch, a bit of amicable calm amid the storm that brewed between the two undefeated teams.
We try to keep in touch a lot, Jeffries said. We used to talk about how we were going to act when we finally play each other. Then when we got there, it was like Wow, were finally here.
Like many players in the Garner-Middle Creek football rivalry, Jeffries and Burston can trace their competitive roots back to when both attended North Garner Middle School. Jeffries, an eighth-grader, started over Burston, a seventh-grader, as North Garners quarterback. But their ties went beyond football. Burston dated Jeffries younger sister for almost three years.
Hes a very respectful kid. I dont really like the idea of people trying to talk to my little sister, but I was cool with Curtis, and thats how we first met, Jeffries said. Then we both shared the interest of football, so we just kept being good friends from that.
Its not in the nature of Jeffries or Burston to become part of the conflict that has been a part of previous Garner-Middle Creek games. They, along with the rest of their teams, were warned by coaches to avoid the trash talk that marred last years matchup, when the vitriol went viral.
Last season, a Garner student wrote a rap song that took shots at Middle Creek and uploaded it to YouTube. A Middle Creek supporter reacted and uploaded his own rap. The Garner student uploaded a response to the response. The schools were in a frenzy by game time.
Burston and Jeffries talk football, not trash. Its what theyve always had in common.
Before the season, they talked about what it would be like to play against each other this year. About what theyre doing to play in college. After each of their first three games, they called or texted to see how the other did. Burston recalls talking about Athens Drive, which lost to Garner in Week 2 but plays in Middle Creeks conference.
Both players recall their junior varsity meetings as being their introduction to the rivalry. Burston was pulled up to the varsity during his freshman year for the teams playoff run. He still remembers seeing seniors cry when Garner eliminated Middle Creek in the second round.
Burston and Jeffries didnt talk last week until the junior varsity game at Garner. Burston walked over to Jeffries and others to say hello, but Garner coaches called to Jeffries to move along.
He didnt want anything stirred up, Jeffries said.
About 25 minutes before kickoff Friday, the Garner visitor section was full, with the Blue Crew student section taking up most of the space. Middle Creeks section had just a few seats left, and there were another 200 people waiting in line for tickets.
By the time the teams ran onto the field Burston was the first Mustang through the cheerleaders paper sign the stadium was roaring.
But both players were quiet and in control on the sidelines.
Burston paced past his teammates.
Jeffries stood alone. When youre facing adversity like that, said Jeffries of playing at Mustangs Stadium. You have to step up and be a leader and let the team know everythings OK.
On the first play of the game, Burston caught a 32-yard pass.
When Jeffries took the field for the first time, he completed both of his passes for 25 yards as Garner went up 7-0.
Burston yelled during Garners second drive, Somebody make a tackle! but Garner scored for a 14-7 lead.
Jeffries voiced his own frustration in the second quarter, wanting his team to run the ball on a 4th-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The play call was a pass, which Jeffries completed just short of the end zone.
Middle Creek led 21-20 after the third quarter, but Garner scored three touchdowns in a span of 2 minutes, 1 second to put the game away early in the fourth quarter. Garner won 46-29 and leads the series 9-1.
Burston finished with three catches for 56 yards. Jeffries was 12-of-21 passing for 115 yards and did not have a turnover.
When it was over, the friends exchanged post-game handshakes at midfield. With head down, Burston walked to his end zone for the post-game talk.
Jeffries and his teammates bolted to the Garner student section to celebrate with chants of I believe that we just won!
Before stepping on the bus headed back to Garner, Jeffries walked over to Burston and Middle Creek quarterback David Salmon to tell them both they played a good game, that it was fun to play against them.
The next morning, Jeffries went back to the school to pick up game film. His coaches asked whether he knew No. 19 from Middle Creek Burston.
Hes a stud, they said.
Jeffries smiled, drove home, then texted his friend.
Staff writer D. Clay best contributed to this story.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps