HUNTERSVILLE – North Mecklenburg High’s football team would love to create some space on campus to display a shield. Hopewell’s team would prefer it stay where it has for the past six years – on the Titans’ campus.

The trophy – a gold and silver inscribed `Shield of Victory’ – goes to the winner of the annual game between the neighboring rivals. The winning team retains the shield for a year.

This season’s match-up will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Hopewell.

Hopewell’s recent dominance in the series means no North Meck player has seen the shield on campus, been able to point it out to friends and say “hey, I helped get that here.” Vikings coach Brad Baker, in the post-game huddle after last week’s victory against West Charlotte, went over some details about the ensuing weekend, then reminded his team that they were going to work to get the shield back.

The kneeling Vikings cheered.

The rivalry began in 2001, when Hopewell was formed from North Mecklenburg’s attendance zone. The shield debuted two years later in the 2003 game, which Hopewell won.

“Rivalries are what make high school sports special,” said Jamie Billings, Hopewell’s athletics director. “Although the students in our area attend different high schools, they have grown up playing together on youth and recreational teams. The rivalry goes deeper than just students; the parents also share a part. Parents and students want to make sure they have bragging rights for the next year.”

Billings has been the unofficial caretaker of the shield during the past few years. The shield usually spends a few days on display in the school office. Billings said students display it on the morning announcements, which are aired on the school’s in-house television station. It’s placed on the screen’s rolling scroll to appear all day.

Then, the shield finds a home in Billings’ office to ensure safety.

The shield does travel to the field of whichever school is hosting the game, just in case it must change hands immediately afterward. Technically, North Mecklenburg players, coaches and fans have seen the shield, but haven’t taken it home since a 21-13 victory in 2006.

“It’s been since 2006 and that’s been too long,” North Meck’s Baker said. “We’re going to fight like crazy to try and get it back. Just like they are. They want to keep it and we’re trying to take it. It’s going to be a great game. It’s going to be a fun game to be involved in.”

The series, which Hopewell leads 8-4, has had some bizarre moments in its 12-year history. In 2003, a streaker bolted across the field (he was caught and arrested). In 2004, with 12 minutes left, the lights went out at North Mecklenburg’s stadium and the game ended early (North won 22-8). And in 2007, two Hopewell students and a then-recent graduate flew a small Cessna airplane about 75 feet above the field three times. The pilot was charged with two misdemeanors and suspended from school.

Mostly, the past few years have been about the game on the field. It’s been intense, but not dirty – what you’d want in a rivalry. Players and fans have behaved.

There’s a new twist this season. For the first time, the game won’t be the regular-season finale for both teams. As if being neighbors wasn’t enough to heighten the rivalry, there often was a playoff spot riding on the outcome. The past two years, Hopewell had to beat North Mecklenburg to secure a spot in the Class 4A playoffs.

But, both teams are in a new conference this year (the MECKA 4A) and scheduling wouldn’t allow it to be at the end of the season. That won’t lessen the importance. North Mecklenburg (3-3) is 1-1 in conference games, and would take a huge stride toward a playoff berth with a victory. Hopewell (1-5) is 0-2 in conference games and would face a major battle if it fell to 0-3. A win would help their flickering playoff hopes and keep the hardware on Hopewell soil for another year.