Much like the personality both the DeSales and Watterson high school football teams often embody, their annual matchup rarely is decided by surprises or trick plays.
Instead, as Eagles coach Dan Bjelac sees it, it's a matter of which team imposes its will on the other more successfully.
Watterson plays host to DeSales on Friday, Oct. 12, in the 57th matchup between the programs.
"We've played them so many times that they know what we're going to do and we know what they're going to do," Watterson senior wide receiver and defensive back Michael Vlahakis said. "If something bad happens in this game, you've got to respond because that always happens. I've been watching these games since I was a little kid, and it's all about responding. There are always turnovers, but it's the team that picks themselves up that usually wins."
The Eagles beat Ironton 42-8 on Oct. 5 and the Stallions defeated Cincinnati Aiken 44-0 on Oct. 6 as each team improved to 4-3 overall.
A win by the Stallions would give them the CCL-Silver Division championship since they also beat St. Charles 28-16 on Sept. 28, and both teams are in the thick of the Division III, Region 10 playoff race.
DeSales has gone 6-2 against Watterson since coach Ryan Wiggins took over in 2007, including a 25-14 win last year. The Eagles lead the all-time series 34-21-1.
DeSales senior running back J.T. Blubaugh has been battling a groin injury and played sparingly against Aiken but has rushed for about 500 yards. He had 111 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries against St. Charles.
Against Aiken, Matt Colatruglio had 12 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns, Tommy Gallagher rushed five times for 69 yards and one touchdown and Griff Saunders and Tyler West also rushed for touchdowns.
DeSales, which features senior Alex Perrine at quarterback and Oliver Grimard, Sayyid Kanu and LaShaun Sanders at wide receiver, led 21-0 after one quarter against Aiken and did not attempt a pass in the game.
"A lot of guys got a little more confident in their positions and it was a chance to build back some of the camaraderie we had during the preseason," Colatruglio said of the Aiken game.
Andy Elberson leads Watterson in interceptions with three and Vlahakis returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown against Ironton. Cody Calhoun, Andrew Lorenz, Matt Stafford, Eli Kirk and Kyle Fada have been other top players on defense.
"It's always a challenging game, and in a game like that, you know the kids are going to be geeked up," Bjelac said. "When you do get a win over a team like DeSales, you know it's a great win."
Watterson finished with 421 total yards against Ironton, which fell to 5-2. Elberson rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns, Walter Green had 11 carries for 106 yards and two scores and DeAndre Golden and Calhoun rushed for 60 and 48 yards, respectively.
On the season, Green has rushed for 420 yards, followed by Elberson (389), Golden (310) and Calhoun (270). Elberson is 36-for-74 passing for 478 yards.
"We're so familiar with each other that we kind of expect to know what they're going to do and they know what we're going to do," Elberson said. "We have to play the kind of football we play every week and not make big changes just because it's DeSales week."
Chris Ritter, Kanu and Grimard lead a DeSales defense that has posted shutouts in two of the past three games. The Stallions have won three in a row after a 1-3 start.
Watterson had been averaging 17.6 points during a 3-3 start before blowing past an Ironton team that had a disadvantage in depth.
"When you look at the Watterson game, what the game comes down to is fundamentals like blocking and tackling," Wiggins said. "It hasn't been won on trick plays. Watterson looks like a very typical Watterson football team with good size up front, and they make play-action passing look easy. They're very solid, not flashy on defense. They just don't make a lot of mistakes."
"We've just got to do the fundamentals," said Ritter, a nose guard who is joined on the defensive line by tackle Bryan Stopar and ends Michael Hippler and Darrien Scott. "No matter how good either of the teams is, it's always a close game because of the rivalry."