There are measures in place to get as many fans as possible into Justice Gymnasium any time the Northwood Chargers come into town to face Jordan-Matthews.
Temporary seats line the courtside in an effort to get everyone who wants to see Chatham County’s biggest rivalry, giving it an atmosphere you’d expect from walking down E. Cardinal Street, lined with cars parked on both sides of the road well before the varsity girls’ game tipped off.
The near-capacity crowd didn’t witness an upset on Saturday.
Northwood’s girls won 68-53 and Jordan-Matthews’ boys took home the win 69-48.
“This is always a big game. For Chatham County, this is Carolina-Duke, so emotions are high,” Northwood girls coach Cameron Vernon said.
The games have been moved to Saturdays in recent years so that all four varsity and JV teams can play at one site, ensuring fans’ allegiances don’t have to be split between girls and boys or varsity and JV.
The result is a raucous atmosphere that simmers all day but boils over on big plays, an official’s call or no call and – sometimes – even a battle between cheerleading teams.
“Attendance is always stronger when we do the quad and that’s what we want. We want everyone in Chatham County who want to see this event, to come,” Vernon said.
Northwood girls start fast
The Chargers’ girls forced early turnovers to run out to a 36-19 halftime lead, but the Jets (3-12, 0-3 Mid-State 2A) didn’t go away easily. Jordan-Matthews trailed by 12 going into the fourth quarter. It was a marked improvement from a 67-27 loss to Northwood in early December.
“Our confidence level is a lot higher than it was the first time we played each other, and our girls have been consistently trying to learn what we teach them,” Jets coach Melody Dark said. Dark, the school’s athletics director, had been at the school for more than 12 hours straight by the end of the day.
Northwood (16-2, 5-1 Big 8 3A) has a big game on Tuesday at home against conference-leading Southern Durham. The Spartans are one of two teams to hand the Chargers a loss this season.
Jazanae Billings had 20 points, followed in double-figures by Jazmine Atkins (14) and Kristian Eanes (14).
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We did some things tonight that if we do Tuesday night, we’re going to get blown out,” Vernon said. “We’re going to have to clean it up a lot. But we’ll get ready.”
The Jets girls were led by Az’Hia Hackney (16 points) and Sarah Morse (11).
Jordan-Matthews boys roll
On the boys’ side, the Jets (16-1, 3-0) and Chargers (5-12, 0-6) are both coached by former players in the rivalry. Jordan-Matthews coach P.J. Lowman, who played for John Phillips, whose name is emblazoned on the court at Frank N. Justice gymnasium.
Northwood’s Alex Hart played for current Leesville Road coach Russ Frazier when the latter was leading the Chargers.
The two are on different ends of the spectrum this year. Northwood has been on the cusp of winning some conference games, but has finished just short.
Jordan-Matthews suffered an upset loss to five-win Southwestern Randolph during a Christmastime tournament but has rebounded. The Jets’ biggest conference game is Friday against Burlington’s Cummings High.
“As a coach you always wonder how your team is going to respond. We’ve won (six straight) since then,” Lowman said.
The Jets led 28-22 at halftime but broke the game wide open in the second half.
B.J. Harrington (14 points) and Chaz Bailey (10) led the way for Northwood.
Scoring in double-figures for J-M were twins Rahim (20) and Rahman Mateen (16) as well as Noah Wright (13) and Khaleel Evans (12).
Rahim’s dunk in the final two minutes – a one-hand slam driving down the lane – sent the place into a tizzy. Children went running, students doubled over as they faked fainting and one female fan darted over to high-five the Jets cheerleaders.
It’s not something you see at any game.
But this is never “any game.”