It's been a few years since twins Tino Rivera and Ponchi Rivera have played an interscholastic football game together.

It's been a few years since twins Tino Rivera and Ponchi Rivera have played an interscholastic football game together.

The field reunion was nearly delayed when Tino suffered a shoulder injury during Delaware Hayes High School's scrimmage against Hilliard Darby on Aug. 11. But he was expected to start at middle linebacker in the opener last Friday against Buckeye Valley, alongside Ponchi at strong-side linebacker.

"I'm eager to get out there again and it'll be fun playing with Ponchi again in our senior year," Tino said. "I think the last time we played together, were in the same huddle, was in eighth grade. Now we're starting and playing next to each other, which is kind of unique."

Tino is a returning starter and Ponchi is a first-year starter.

"Tino burst onto the scene last year about the middle of the season," said coach Mike LoParo, whose team will play host Friday to Olentangy. "We couldn't keep him out of the middle any longer. The picture he was seeing slowed down. He has good vision and finds the football really well."

LoParo said it will be interesting to see them work together, as Ponchi's job is to squeeze the play back toward the middle to his brother.

"Ponchi runs well and is very physical, so he's very similar to Tino," LoParo said. "They're also smart kids and they work really hard in the weight room. It's a nice combination."

Ponchi is hoping the defense will cut down ball-carriers like it does hair.

"Most of our defense is (at my house) now because we're cutting Mohawks," Ponchi said. "We're a close group. We're all excited. I'm excited to be starting, excited to be playing alongside Tino and (weak-side linebacker) Franco Rossi and just ready to get it going."

The brothers have always been close and also share a close friend in Rossi.

"We call ourselves the three amigos," Tino said. "We have the same interests, hobbies and friends. We spend a lot of time together."

LoParo can vouch for that.

"They're pretty much inseparable," LoParo said. "They go everywhere together. It's great to have players be friends away from the field and bring that closeness to the field as well. That linebacker trio is going to be the strength of our defense."

The Pacers hope to break through against Olentangy, which finished 7-4 last season and opened against Olentangy Orange last Friday. The Braves won by an average of 5.3 points last season.

"They look like the traditional Olentangy team to me, even though some people thought they might drop off this year because they relied on a large senior class last year," LoParo said. "But a number of injuries forced them to use younger kids, so they gained experience. Plus, Ed Terwilliger is a great coach."

The Braves won 24-21 last season when graduate Ryan DiSabato kicked a 31-yard field goal with seven seconds left.

"We've struggled against Olentangy, (Olentangy) Liberty and Big Walnut and those are the teams we'd really like to beat," Tino said. "They've had our number for some reason. Last year against Olentangy, we made some mistakes that cost us, like jumping offsides and giving away a big fumble."

The Braves have a new quarterback in James Camp, but return senior running backs Joe Eschenbach and Ben-Michael Welch. They run behind a solid line in tackles Matt Wilson (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) and Adam Lauer (6-2, 230), guards Tyler Milnor (6-3, 255) and Dayne Widenhamer (6-1, 207) and center Alex Lauer (6-2, 230).

Eschenbach ran for 467 yards and caught nine passes for 159 yards. Welch was the leading receiver with 17 catches for 277 passes and also ran for 152 yards on 39 carries.

"It should be an interesting matchup with our speed on defense against their size," LoParo said. "The main thing for us will be trying to get over the mental hurdle we have against them. We have to get over that."

The Braves have six juniors starting on defense, led by Tyler Foy (6-2, 210) at end and William Greathouse (5-11, 265) at tackle. Senior David Greenzalis (5-8, 200) will key the defense at linebacker, with classmates around him in Brad Young (6-1, 295) at tackle, Michael Raiff (6-0, 203) at end and Aaron Gutentag and Ryan Summers in the secondary.