Heated rivals took the field on Monday night to play a football game — 18 days after it started.

Heated rivals took the field on Monday night to play a football game — 18 days after it started.

On Oct. 6, the Havelock Rams and West Craven Eagles started their game. Two top 10 teams had a lot at stake — a Coastal 3A Conference championship, an undefeated season and a top seed in the upcoming playoffs.

On Oct. 6, football was in the minds of the players and the fans. But, 18 days can change a lot of things.

In a steady and sometimes heavy rain, West Craven took a 7-0 lead on Havelock. Lightning began to flash across the sky. The referees and school officials decided for the safety of the fans to suspend the game at halftime. It would resume four days later. Hurricane Matthew had other ideas.

The storm moved in, dropped more than a foot of rain in some areas and sent the Neuse River over its banks — right into the communities that make up the West Craven area.

Football would just have to wait.

Residents along the Neuse in western Craven County evacuated, some leaving most of their belongings behind. Roads flooded and areas of the county were essentially cut off.

The flood had a direct impact on 208 students at West Craven High School, about 20 percent of the student body.

The water eventually receded and West Craven High School — at one point surrounded by water — opened its doors to students again. Normalcy had returned, almost. In the backs of minds of players and fans, there was a football game to finish — a big one.

Havelock and West Craven had grown to be bitter rivals. An incident involving a player ripping up posters in a field house spiraled out of control and created some bad blood among the schools, the players and the fans.

But 18 days can change a lot of things.

Before the game resumed on Monday night, the two teams who once refused to shake hands gathered at midfield, took to their knees and prayed for the community — together.

Heated rivals, yes, but all brothers underneath the pads.

The pre-game prayer didn’t stop the intensity of the game. Havelock, which hadn’t lost to West Craven since 2008 and riding a 35-game conference winning streak, rallied to take a 21-14 lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

But the Eagles have had a sense all season about this being one of those special years, the types of years about which books are written and television specials produced. West Craven scored two late fourth-quarter touchdowns and held the Rams on one last drive, winning the game 28-21 and ending seven years of frustration with a joyous celebration.

Yes, 18 days can change a lot of things. It can produce a champion. It can result in heartache. And in this case, it can create a community.