The season-opening matchup between the Marion-Franklin and Westerville North high school football teams came together almost in the blink of an eye.
The Red Devils, who play host to North on Friday, Aug. 29, needed an opponent after defeating Upper Arlington 26-7 in last year's opener, a one-time meeting between the schools.
The Warriors, meanwhile, were dropped by Franklin Heights after the completion of their two-year series. North broke a 45-game losing streak in last year's opener, defeating the Falcons 48-21.
According to both Marion-Franklin coach Brian Haffele and North coach Rodger Elander, several large Division I schools approached both teams, but neither Elander nor Haffele liked those matchups. Having known each other for several years through longtime Walnut Ridge coach Gary Carter, the two struck a deal.
"We talked and decided to do a home-and-home. So there it is," Elander said. "It's really what it came down to."
Marion-Franklin has won both of the programs' meetings, 7-6 in 2008 and 38-28 in 2009.
The Red Devils have made 10 consecutive playoff appearances, won 10 City League-South Division championships in a row and advanced to a Division III state semifinal last year, losing to eventual state champion Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 17-9 to finish 12-2.
The Warriors, who finished 3-7 last season, haven't opened against an opponent that went on to make the playoffs since 2007, when they played Olentangy Liberty, and have done so just twice since 2003.
North returns several important cogs on offense, including quarterback Jake Downs, running back Jake Hinz, guard/tackle Gage Archer and tackle Trey Crumrine. Downs passed for 367 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions last year, and Hinz rushed for 642 yards and six touchdowns on 99 carries.
The Warriors' defense is led by linemen Antonio Shelton, Archer and Crumrine and linebackers Andrew Malick and Hinz.
"Elander is doing a great job over there. He's a great coach," Haffele said. "We played them in (2008) and they took us to the brink before we won that game. It's always challenging to play an OCC team in the early part of the season because of the depth issue. It's going to be a challenge."
Marion-Franklin, which averaged 31.5 points per game last year, returns quarterback Justin Tyler and one starter on the offensive line in Jamari Walker.
Tyler threw for 1,435 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 833 yards and 15 touchdowns on 133 carries last season.
The Red Devils' defense is led by three Division I recruits in linebackers Anthony Mckee Jr. and A.J. Tarvin and lineman Ty Taylor.