How a tie started one of the state’s best football rivalries
By Richard Walker
When you look at the Crest-Shelby all-time high school football rivalry, you see a 29-22-1 all-time series advantage for Shelby.
The tie, which wouldn’t happen under today’s rules, may have been the most important result in series history.
Not only was it the first time Crest was competitive against the state’s all-time winningest program, the old tiebreaking method used in those days propelled the Chargers into their first-ever postseason appearance that became one of the greatest athletic days in school history.
To put in perspective how big it was for Crest to simply be competitive, consider that the county schools that formed Crest in 1967 – formerly all-white schools Crest and No. 3 and formerly all-black schools Green Bethel and Camp – had never fielded football teams.
Neither had forerunning schools like Boiling Springs, Lattimore, and Mooresboro that formed the original Crest High School in 1960 at the current main street location that later was Boiling Springs Elementary School. The original Crest was actually an acronym – Cleveland Rural Education Stands Together – as local school officials knew that consolidated and integrated schools were coming to Cleveland County in the 1960s.
So when the Crest we know today first opened as a fully-integrated school for the 1967-68 school year, football was a completely new sport for a school and community that had enjoyed statewide success in basketball and baseball in recent years; Crest had won the 1966 1A state baseball title, was 1967 1A state baseball runnerup and had advanced to the 1965 1A state basketball tournament and No. 3 had advanced to the 1963 and 1967 1A state basketball tournaments.
However, in football, Crest struggled in its first seasons as the Chargers went 0-9-1, 3-7, 1-9 and 3-7 in its first four years before posting its first winning record of 5-4-1 in 1971. After going 5-4 in 1972, Crest was considered a “darkhorse” candidate by league coaches to compete for one of the two Southwestern Conference playoff berths in the old Western N.C. Activities Association in 1973.
Shelby, meanwhile, was considered a league favorite along with South Point since the two schools had won the last two WNCHSAA state titles; South Point was co-champion in 1971 while Shelby was an unbeaten and untied title-winner in 1972.
Crest started the 1973 season impressively, recording 26-0 and 33-0 shutout wins over East Gaston and Chase, respectively, as it prepared to host Shelby.
Shelby had its 13-game winning streak ended in a loss in the opener against Class 4A Hunter Huss of Gastonia before knocking off Burns 21-6 before travelled to play at then-named Crest Stadium on Sept. 21, 1973.
After a scoreless first quarter, future Shrine Bowler and N.C. State player Larry Eberheart opened the scoring with a 69-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. Shelby threatened to score more late in the first half when the Golden Lions reached the Crest 5 before a holding penalty pushed them back and they were stopped on downs at the Crest 22.
In the second half, Crest marched 74 yards on its first possession that was capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Dennis Sinkler to future Gardner-Webb standout Elvin Webber. Shelby would go ahead again at 14-7 after Mike Callahan’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Danny Miller with 7:40 left in the fourth quarter. Crest, which had been outscored by a combined 199-34 margin in its first five meetings with Shelby, responded with a scoring drive capped by James Littlejohn’s 2-yard touchdown and Phil Wright’s successful extra point for a 14-all tie with 4:15 left in regulation.
It meant an overtime period that wouldn’t count for anything unless the teams tied for a playoff berth at season’s end.
Crest scored on its first possession in four plays with Wright again converting the extra point. Shelby scored on its first play when Eberheart went 10 yards for the touchdown, but Crest stopped Eberheart on the two-point play – and began celebrating its “tie.”
Here is how Shelby Star sports writer David Camp wrote about it in that newspaper’s Sept. 22, 1973 edition: “Some say a tie is like kissing your sister, but to the Crest Chargers, last night’s hard-fought 14-14 with the Shelby High Golden Lions was almost like a victory.”
That proved true when Crest and Shelby tied for second place with 7-1-1 conference records behind unbeaten winner South Point at the end of the regular season.
It set up one of the biggest sports days in Crest history for Nov. 16, 1973 when Crest hosted eventual NCAA champion N.C. State’s Red-White scrimmage featuring former Chargers star David Thompson late that afternoon, then hosted the school’s first football playoff game that night. Crest would fall 20-7 to South Point in the WNCHSAA quarterfinal matchup.
The loss certainly got Shelby’s attention as the Golden Lions won the next six games in the rivalry from 1974 to 1979 before Crest “officially” beat Shelby in 1980 in the Chargers’ first conference championship-winning season.
Crest has recorded 22 actual victories over Shelby, including streaks of five straight from 1998-2001 and four straight (1980-83 and 2012-15).
Shelby, the state’s winningest all-time football program with 821 documented victories dating back to 1910, has winning streaks of six games (1974 to 1979) and five (1968-72) in addition to a current two-game winning streak over Crest.
This year’s meeting is the first in the series since 2019 as it was a casualty of the abbreviated 2021 winter/spring season.