The Hartley High School football team is viewing its first matchup against Watterson since 1996 as a measuring stick with anticipation that coach Brad Burchfield describes as "off the charts."
The two teams won state championships in 2010 (Watterson in Division III and Hartley in Division IV), and both Burchfield and Eagles coach Dan Bjelac agree that the gap between the programs that occurred when Watterson compiled a 29-3 record in the series from 1959-96 likely has been bridged significantly.
Still, Burchfield isn't exactly sure how his Hawks will withstand Watterson's newest charge when they play host to the Eagles on Friday, Sept. 28.
"They look like every Watterson team I've seen since I was growing up," Burchfield said. "They've got a storm trooper mentally with a lot of people that are interchangeable. They run a lot of pistol stuff, which is very downhill, and it's a very physical style of play. What they are on offense is what they are on defense, which I think is a huge compliment to them.
"How it plays out is all speculation. We've gone 3-29 against them all time, so are we that good yet? I think we certainly like where we stand and there's not been much to complain about, but you never know who you are until you are faced with some adversity."
Hartley, which is 5-0, has outscored its opponents 232-30 and was ranked No. 1 in the Division IV state poll last week. The Hawks defeated Proctorville Fairland 56-6 on Sept. 21 on the road.
Watterson, which received votes in last week's Division III state poll, fell to 3-2 with a 35-16 loss to visiting Cincinnati LaSalle on Sept. 21. The Eagles went just 3-7 a year ago but opened this season with three consecutive wins before falling to Cincinnati Winton Woods 21-14 on Sept. 14.
Three of the Eagles' first five opponents compete in Division I and two compete in Division II, while the Hawks' first five opponents all reside in Divisions III, IV or V.
Watterson quarterback Andy Elberson and a running back corps featuring Cody Calhoun, DeAndre Golden and Walter Green has led the offense. Elberson has rushed for 239 yards and four touchdowns and is 26-for-59 passing for 353 yards with one touchdown.
The Eagles had 231 total yards against LaSalle and trailed just 21-16 early in the fourth quarter.
Calhoun believes he might have suffered a mild concussion against LaSalle but expects to play against Hartley. He also starts at strong safety for a defense that has been led by lineman John Bogue, linebacker Matt Stafford and back Mike Vlahakis.
Senior Andrew Lorenz, according to Bjelac, is having a standout season on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"It's just going to be a big game," Calhoun said. "We haven't played since 1996 and both teams won state championships a couple years ago. We've been excited about this game all year.
"I think we're getting better every week. We struggled a little bit at stopping the pass against LaSalle, but in our first four games we only gave up about seven or 14 points almost every game. I think our defense has been doing a good job against the run."
The Eagles' defense expects to be in for one of its biggest tests of the season in terms of stopping the run.
Senior running back Ja'Wuan Woodley, who has verbally committed to the University of Toledo, has rushed for eight touchdowns and a team-best 656 yards to lead the Hartley offense. Marcellus Calhoun has 10 rushing touchdowns.
Wide receiver Alonzo Saxton has two touchdown catches, including one for 86 yards against Fairland. Jacob Matuska, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior tight end who has verbally committed to Notre Dame, and wide receiver Dominique Scott have two touchdown receptions apiece.
Defensively, Calhoun, Matuska, Saxton and Woodley head a unit that also includes lineman Kalil Morris. The Hawks have given up a combined three points during the first two quarters of games this season.
Junior center Max Steele broke a hand in a 42-10 win over Akron Hoban on Sept. 14 and missed the Fairland game but is expected back this week, Burchfield said.