Several of the faces the Watterson High School football team will come against when it opens Friday will be the same as a year ago when it beat Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 21-7 in the first matchup between the programs in 37 years.

Several of the faces the Watterson High School football team will come against when it opens Friday will be the same as a year ago when it beat Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 21-7 in the first matchup between the programs in 37 years.

Of course, many of those who are back and in the same positions won't necessarily have the same roles.

The Irish are expected to look more like the team that went 7-3 but failed to make the playoffs in 2008 than the one which advanced to the Division II, Region 9 playoffs but lost to Poland Seminary 38-14 in a quarterfinal last season to finish 6-5.

After scrapping the option offense a year ago in favor of a more wide-open attack, St. Vincent-St. Mary has returned to the former offense with senior Oliver Hildebrandt (6-foot-5, 220) again at quarterback.

The Irish's offensive approach should provide a tune-up for the Eagles for later in the season when they face a pair of teams which also ran the option last year defending Division II state champion Cincinnati Winton Woods (Sept. 17) and 2009 Division III state runner-up DeSales (Oct. 15).

Considering some of its most experienced players defensively are at linebacker in a 5-0 front, Watterson expects to be up for the challenge.

"Everyone can rally around our defense this year," senior linebacker Matt Redfield said. "Our defense came out and set the tone (in our final scrimmage Aug. 20). Since Ive been here starting as a sophomore, this is the best defense we've had. Were all pretty technically sound and know our roles."

Redfield (6-foot, 217 pounds) made first-team all-district in Division III and ThisWeek Super 25 honorable mention last year on defense. He is joined at linebacker by senior returnees Michael Szaraz (5-10, 180) and Ray Cook (6-1, 196).

With senior Hunter Maynard (6-2, 288), a Ball State recruit, at nose guard, the Eagles figure to be stout against the run.

As Watterson has learned from the many years in which DeSales has run some form of the triple-option offense, the key on defense is playing assignments.

The Irish have one large offensive lineman to run behind in senior Nick Codrea (6-3, 280).

"They're different than they were last year in that they're running a little bit of the triple-option, which they didnt do much of last year," coach Dan Bjelac said. "They've kind of revamped what they do offensively. They've got a couple good players in the slots and they like to try to get you out into spaces. Their quarterback does a nice job running the ball."

The top options around Hildebrandt are senior running back Mark Murphy (6-2, 205), who has verbally committed to play for Indiana, senior wide receiver Doran Grant (5-11, 180) and junior wide receiver Saevon Fitzgerald (5-8, 165).

Grant is at cornerback and Murphy is at safety for a defense which will show a 5-0 look against an Eagles offense which returns six starters.

Redfield and Szaraz are expected to be the primary ball-carriers for an offense which was planning to mix the pass and run with senior quarterback Patrick Rhomberg (6-1, 210. Rhomberg is expected to play against the Irish but was banged up during the preseason with an elbow injury. Junior Josh Gresham and sophomore Andy Elberson are his backups.

The amount Rhomberg is limited could have an effect on whether the Eagles depend more on their backfield duo of Redfield and Szaraz or on a group of experienced receivers that includes seniors Connor Geraghty (6-2, 175) and Brad McCurdy (6-0, 175).

Other key players on defense for the Irish include senior linebacker Mike Greissling (5-11, 220) and senior defensive lineman Freeland Oliverio (6-2, 230).

In last season's game, the Eagles used a pair of long passes from 2010 graduate Greg Hock, including a 49-yarder to Geraghty, to take an early third-quarter lead. The game was postponed for more than two hours because of bad weather and was completed at about 12:15 a.m.

The only other time the teams have played was in the 1972 Class AA state championship game, which was won by the Irish 28-7.

"Last year we went up there looking to start the season right and we were really geeked up for it," Redfield said. "I don't know if they were really ready for us. Our defense controlled the game for the most part. I feel like we're looking pretty good right now."