The last time the Pickerington High School North football team played Cincinnati Moeller, the Crusaders ended the best season in the history of a Panthers program that began in 2003.
Moeller's 26-21 win in a 2012 Division I state semifinal -- on the way to the first of its back-to-back state titles -- feels like the distant past to North coach Tom Phillips.
"Basically our team understands that we have to play great to beat the back-to-back (Division I) champion," Phillips said.
"The game two years ago is history since our players were sophomores. Both teams enter the 2014 season with a new identity."
Although the stage will be different, the Panthers will get a chance to even the score against the Crusaders when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 29, for their opener at Crew Stadium.
The matchup is part of the 25-game Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown, which since 1998 has showcased teams from southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky.
Pickerington Central has played in the event each of the past three seasons, but North is the only central Ohio participant this year.
The only current North players who saw action in the 2012 state semifinal at Welcome Stadium in Dayton were senior Frankie Weirick, who is out with an injury until at least midseason, and senior left tackle Nick Huhn, who played on special teams.
"We're definitely excited," Huhn said. "It's really nice to get great competition that first week. They're big and they're a really good football team.
"(The state semifinal) was the most intense game I've ever played in and I can't wait to play them again."
While North went 10-2 and lost to Hilliard Davidson 20-7 in a Division I, Region 2 second-round playoff game last year, Moeller beat Mentor 55-52 in the state championship game to finish 14-1.
The Crusaders have won nine state titles and have made 12 consecutive playoff appearances.
Returning starters for Moeller are seniors Chase Pankey (WR), Noah Able (DT), Elijah Taylor (DT) and Christian Wersel (DB) and junior Jake Hausmann (TE).
Pankey (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) scored six touchdowns a year ago and has committed to Boston College. Taylor (6-3, 250) had 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss and has committed to Notre Dame.
Senior tight end Doug Bates (6-4, 240) has committed to Cincinnati.
Hausmann (6-5, 230), who caught two passes in last year's state final, has eight Division I offers, including one from Ohio State.
Senior defensive backs Mitch Brauning (6-0, 190) and Noah Able (5-11, 165) also saw action in the state final.
Senior Matt Crable (6-4, 215) and junior Thomas McVittie (6-4, 205) competed throughout the preseason for the starting quarterback job, including in a scrimmage against Westerville Central on Aug. 16 that some of the Panthers watched in person.
North has a new quarterback in senior Christian Whitner, who started for Greensboro (Ga.) Greene County as a sophomore but missed most of last season with an injury while he attended Pickerington Central. He transferred to North in the offseason.
Senior wide receiver Jaye Williams is back after making a team-best 36 receptions a year ago. Senior Justin Stevens and junior Adam Notestine are returnees on the offensive line along with Huhn.
Senior Kyle Beemiller, who will see time on both the offensive and defensive lines, leads a defense that also includes returnees Trezden Johnson (LB), Matt Myers (DB) and Romaeo Whitlow (DB).
"I think we look as good if not better than last year's team," Beemiller said.
"I know (Moeller's) going to be really good because they're the two-time state champ-ions. They try to shove it down your throat. In the film we saw, they tried to use their tight ends as much as they can, and we only saw them pass it once to their wide receivers."