Jeff Pharion sank into the cushions of a sofa in the coaches' office at St. Charles Preparatory School.

Jeff Pharion sank into the cushions of a sofa in the coaches' office at St. Charles Preparatory School.

The second-year football coach had watched as his Cardinals moved to 5-0 with a 24-21 win over Sandusky last Friday. Pharion sat with his head back staring at the ceiling knowing the preliminaries were over for the Cardinals and the teeth of their schedule would begin Friday at DeSales.

Pharion gets charged up at just the mention of the Stallions. And why not?

•DeSales holds a 35-3 advantage since the teams began playing in 1963. The Cardinals did not field a team from 1965-70.

•St. Charles won the first game, but did not win again until a 14-7 decision in 1975.

•The Cardinals won again in 1976, also 14-7, but haven't won since.

•Last year, DeSales won 10-7 as the Cardinals committed four turnovers, dropped a pass inside the Stallions' 2-yard line and had trouble with a hold for a field goal.

"I want it to be over. It needs to be over. Everyone understands that it's something that we need to do," Pharion said of breaking the 33-game drought. "We've had some close battles with them. Now it's time to get the job finished."

The rivalry has become more than a game to Pharion, who always seems to have been linked with DeSales in one way or another:

•His father, Jeff, was the defensive coordinator at St. Charles in 1976. After coaching the Cardinals from 1970-88, he was as an assistant at DeSales for Bob Jacoby from 1989-96.

•His brother Mike, a 1992 DeSales graduate, played as a cornerback on the 1990 team that lost to St. Marys Memorial 14-3 in the Division II final. He also played on the 1991 team that lost to Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education 18-13 in a Division III state semifinal.

•Jeff Pharion is a 1986 graduate of St. Charles. Before high school, he went to St. James the Less, a DeSales feeder school on Oakland Park Ave.

"Jeff gets really fired up for the game because he went to St. James the Less and a lot of his classmates went to DeSales," the father said of his son. "He had a lot of friends on the DeSales team that won the (Division III) title in 1985 (with a 21-13 win over Orrville)."

"I still catch a lot of flack for coming here," the Cardinals coach said.

The passing game might be the key to beating DeSales. In the last two St. Charles victories, long passes were the back-breakers.

"In 1975, it was the fifth game of the season and (DeSales) came in unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in the state," said Jay Ryan, a 1976 St. Charles graduate who played on the 1975 team and was an assistant coach in 1976. "We played at Northland (in 1975) and beat them on a 50-yard pass from Dave Leonhardt to Jerry Hammond with under a minute to play.

"In 1976, we played at Eastmoor, Tom Lombardo caught two long passes from quarterback Ben Nye for the win."

DeSales has not been the only problem for St. Charles. Since 2002, the Cardinals have started 5-0 three times and never fared better than 2-3 in the final five games. In their last playoff season of 2002, they were 1-4 and lost a Division II postseason game to DeSales 33-0 to finish 6-5. In 2006, they finished 2-3, missing the playoffs at 7-3. They were 0-5 in 2007 to finish 5-5.

"I looked it up, and in the last 10 years we have won 70 percent of our games in the first five weeks of the season," said coach Pharion, whose team started 4-1 last season and finished 5-5. "We have always had a tough schedule in the final five weeks and this year is no different. We know if we win two or three of those games, we'll be in the playoffs. We just have to go out and make plays."

But one change this season is that the Cardinals will play only four games in the final five weeks. The Week 8 contest against Hamilton (Ontario) National Arts College was canceled because the school did not have a team this season. No replacement was scheduled.

Still, St. Charles has a tall order in the remaining games with Youngstown Ursuline (5-0), Watterson (3-1) and Jonathan Alder (4-1).

The Cardinals have lost to Watterson in nine consecutive games with their last victory being 10-8 in 2000. In the last two meetings, the Eagles won 40-34 in five overtimes in 2008 and 20-0 last season.

Coach Pharion said his team has no excuses.

"We can't let up. If we're a playoff team, then we have to win at least two of our final four games and that starts with DeSales. We have to put ourselves in line to stand up and beat this team."

That means the postseason begins Friday for the Cardinals.