The outcome of the showdown between the Worthington Kilbourne and Thomas Worthington high school football teams leaves both programs seeking to enter league play with a winning record.
The Wolves and Cardinals both have a 1-1 record after host Kilbourne rolled to a 44-7 win on Sept. 6. The teams conclude their non-league schedules Friday, Sept. 13, before preparing for the start of league play in week four.
Both Kilbourne and Thomas have a home game this week, with the Wolves playing Hamilton Township and the Cardinals facing Eastmoor Academy. The Rangers and Warriors also are 1-1.
"There is a big difference between being 2-1 going into the (OCC-Capital Division schedule) and being 1-2," Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti said. "A win also would give us two in a row and we could ride that momentum into the league.
"We've played two big rivalry games in a row, so we've got to make sure that we remain focused in practice and continue to learn, improve and develop. I think every game is an important game, but this is one that could set a path for the type of season we'd like to have."
Thomas coach Scott Gordon doesn't want his players dwelling on the loss to the Wolves.
"We not only weren't sharp against Kilbourne, but we helped them a lot," he said. "We had three turnovers, snapped the ball over our punter's head near the goal line and we dropped several passes in the first half that would've sustained drives. Things kind of snowballed and that's disappointing because we have too many seniors and too much leadership to have that happen.
"So the key for us right now is to let that go and move on. We need to focus on this week and bounce back and play to our ability."
Hamilton Township is averaging 30.5 points in large part to a 48-8 win over Columbus East in its opener Aug. 30. The Rangers, who lost to Licking Heights 21-13 on Sept. 6, are allowing an average of 14.5 points.
Key players on offense for Hamilton Township include quarterback Dante White, running backs Lorenzio Bridges and Aaron Williams and 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end Micky Crum, who has made a verbal commitment to the University of Louisville.
One of the Rangers' top wide receivers, Khenan Alexander, suffered a broken leg against Licking Heights.
"(Crum) is a big-time talent for them at tight end from what I hear," Trombetti said. "We need to improve our pass defense, but we've got some help coming this week. We should have two of our injured guys back. (Lineman) Gavin Elifritz was first-team all-district last year and he should be back from a foot injury. (Linebacker) Grayson Biglin could be back from a hip pointer and help us harass that tight end."
Hamilton Township's defense features ends Michael Wellman and Ketdrick West, Crum at linebacker and Williams at cornerback.
Despite averaging 32.5 points, Kilbourne's offense has made few "big" plays.
"We need to sustain our blocks a bit better so we can have some big plays," Trombetti said. "The short stuff is good and we've been successful, but there's going to come a time that we need to make some big plays, too."
Eastmoor defeated Westland 42-7 in its opener Aug. 30 but lost 48-8 to St. Charles on Sept. 6.
"They're going to come in smarting a bit, too," Gordon said. "They do have an excuse, though, because they've switched from a power offense to a spread offense and they're still ironing things out. I hope it takes at least one more week for them to find their way in their new system and new philosophy."
Key players on offense for Eastmoor include first-year quarterback Tyler Simmons, wide receiver George Daniels and linemen Lawrence Dailey and Jalen Smith. Martine Perez, Derrick Wilson Jr. and Jaylen Woody have shared time at running back.
"They're trying to create mismatches and take advantage of what the defense can't handle," Gordon said. "A spread offense doesn't mean pass-happy anymore. They can take advantage of their speed by spreading the defense out to create running lanes."
The Warriors' defense includes linebackers Cameron Jackson and David Via, William McCarey and Smith on the line and Perez and Wilson Jr. in the secondary.
"We've got to take more control on the line, protect the football and use (wide receiver) Jalen Wells to stretch the field and spread our passing game out to involve more targets," Gordon said. "Opening running lanes for (running back Tony Harvard) would open our passing game, and catching passes will open more running lanes. It's a balance we need to have to be successful."