Northland High School football coach Kevin Tooson calls Brookhaven his team's "psychological" problem.

Northland High School football coach Kevin Tooson calls Brookhaven his team's "psychological" problem.

Despite strides by Whetstone toward the top of the City League-North Division that have included back-to-back winning conference records, the Braves haven't come within three touchdowns of the Bearcats the last two seasons.

And Beechcroft certainly has had enough chances come up just short against the Bearcats in recent years to make one wonder if someone inside the Brookhaven locker room has put a hex over that program -- including last season when a 13-6 loss cost the Cougars the City-North championship.

The other four remaining teams in the league have remained so far behind that most of the Bearcats' wins in recent years over Centennial, East, Linden and Mifflin have been among the area's biggest annual blowouts.

So despite entering the season with inexperience at most positions except for wide receiver and on the defensive line, the Bearcats have one major factor that the rest of the teams do not: Confidence.

"All the way around, teams are really trying to get their programs together," Brookhaven coach Anthony Thornton said. "We know going out there that we can't just live on our reputation alone. Last year we kind of let our guard down against Whetstone and they hung with us for a while (in a 30-7 win)."

After spending the last four years in Division I and going 0-3 in playoff appearances in Region 3, Brookhaven has joined Whetstone, Beechcroft, Centennial and Mifflin in Division II, Region 7.

The drop in divisions should help the Bearcats in terms of playoff points, especially considering how much tougher their non-league schedule has become.

Brookhaven opens against Division II playoff-qualifier Marion-Franklin on Friday and has added perennial Division I power Dublin Coffman to the schedule (Sept. 11). In between, it gets to battle 2006 Division I state champion Hilliard Davidson (Sept. 4).

The last time the Bearcats competed in Division II was 2004 when they won the state title.

Brookhaven will look for its eighth consecutive win over Beechcroft on Oct. 16.

That game also could be the Bearcats' final opportunity to gain significant computer points considering it closes the season against East (Oct. 23) and Mifflin (Oct. 30).

The stakes, meanwhile, have been upped for Beechcroft, Northland and Whetstone.

While Brookhaven has a group of mostly untested players surrounding returnees Derrick Bryant (DE), Zaphere Carroll (DL), DeCorey Evans (OL), Ryland Ward (QB/DB) and a speedy group of receivers, the Cougars have the most experienced team in the City-North.

Led by Wallace Hale (RB/LB), Larez Harper (DB) and Rasean Moore (DL), Beechcroft has 25 seniors who will enter their third or fourth seasons as starters.

The Cougars qualified to the postseason last year after a two-year hiatus, a fitting conclusion to the stellar coaching career of Tom Dunlap.

Beechcroft won more than 70 percent of the time in Dunlap's 23 seasons and advanced to the playoffs 12 times.

Bruce Ward, who had been the team's defensive coordinator since 2006, has taken over a team that looks poised to give Brookhaven another battle for the title.

Since Thornton joined the Bearcats' staff as an assistant seven years ago, Brookhaven has gone 6-1 against Northland in addition to its perfect mark against the Cougars.

The Vikings have some of the City League's top athletes in Jude Adjei-Barimah (DB), A.J. Johnson (WR) and Raynard Ballard (RB/DB) and a Division I recruit in defensive lineman Quentin Jones (UNLV).

What Northland won't have on its side this season is margin for error.

After closing the non-league schedule Sept. 11 against Marion-Franklin, the Vikings must play their conference opener Sept. 18 against the visiting Bearcats.

Northland, which plays Whetstone Oct. 16 and closes the regular season Oct. 30 against Beechcroft, likely will find making the postseason a difficult task as well.

After spending the last several years in Division II, the Vikings have joined perennial powers such as Coffman, Davidson, Pickerington Central, Upper Arlington, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne in Division I, Region 3.

"This group is motivated, and it's been a pleasure to coach them," Northland coach Kevin Tooson said. "We've definitely got our fair share of athletes and they're accepting the challenge."

Whetstone enters year No. 2 under coach Jim Worden after going 7-3 a year ago.

The Braves' non-league schedule has toughened as well, as Central Crossing has been replaced by Division II playoff-qualifier Independence (Sept. 4) and Columbus South has been replaced by Dayton Dunbar (Sept. 11).

Whetstone, which returns 20 players who saw varsity time last year including senior Eastern Michigan recruit Marcus Penn (RB/DB), then opens the conference schedule against Beechcroft (Sept. 18) and Brookhaven (Sept. 25).

"That's how it should it should be," Worden said of his team's schedule. "We're going to war every week. We know we're going to have to be real fundamentally sound and conditioned to battle with Brookhaven and Beechcroft."

Among the league's other top players should be East's JeJuan Bell (QB) and T.C. Turner (WR/DB), Linden's Don Anderson (QB) and Doug Niece (OT/LB), Mifflin's Ricky Truesdale (RB) and Troy Robinson (WR) and Centennial's Anthony Aulette (FB/LB) and Taylor Wicks (RB/FS).