There was no denying the purple concession stand, the signage or the midfield logo: this was Holly Springs’ field.
But there was no denying the red-white-and-navy-blue crowd, the Gatorade bath celebration or the scoreboard: this was Apex Friendship’s moment.
Evicted from their home turf — in May, the field was top dressed (added layer of fertilizer) but it was overdone which led to barren patches on the field – the Patriots had decided long ago to move the date and location of its matchup against North East Carolina Prep, a long-awaited first varsity football game for Friendship.
So Holly Springs High, just 10 miles down the road, let Friendship use its facility.
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But it still wasn’t quite home.
Notably missing were some key components of a festive home atmosphere akin to the one Friendship enjoyed last year while going 5-4 as a JV team. There was no band. There were no score updates over the PA from other ongoing games.
Fans filed into the stadium surveying the unfamiliar stands to figure out where to sit.
But the Patriots left happy.
Friendship, a second-year school with only freshmen, sophomores and juniors, was a 46-12 winner against North East Carolina Prep, a charter school from Tarboro.
“I told them they were going to have butterflies, and that wasn’t a problem,” Friendship coach Adam Sanders said. “I wanted them to enjoy the butterflies and enjoy the moment and do something they’ll remember the rest of their life.”
Friendship didn’t have to wait long to bring the crowd to its feet.
Four plays after kicking off to start the game, the Patriots thwarted a fake punt attempt.
Two plays later, Jake Kelley’s 2-yard run will stand as Friendship’s first points. Alex Rogers booted the extra point to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
It was the same on the next possession – another fake punt stopped, another seven points for the Patriots. Friendship was up 33-6 at halftime and didn’t need to put together a long drive to do it.
The Patriots had just one play of at least 20 yards until the next-to-last drive when Scott Sidney ran for a 50-yard touchdown.
“There are things to work out, without a doubt, but we’re very proud of how we executed. I’m proud of them,” Sanders said.
The schedule was an unexpected blessing: Friendship has a Week 2 bye. Friendship athletics director Matt Clifton said the field will be ready for the Patriots to host Cleveland High in Week 3 on Sept. 2.
With the first firsts out of the way, the Patriots will get a first true home game soon enough.