For the fourth consecutive season, the Cardinals and the Pioneers will open the season against each other.

For the fourth consecutive season, the Cardinals and the Pioneers will open the season against each other.

Thomas, which will be host to the contest Friday, Aug. 24, won the first meeting 35-28 in 2009 but Jonathan Alder has won the last two meetings, 37-0 last season and 24-0 in 2010.

Last season, the Cardinals finished 4-6 and the Pioneers went 12-1, losing to Springfield Shawnee 21-10 in the Division III, Region 12 final.

"That 2011 Jonathan Alder football team was really one of the better high school football teams I've ever seen," Cardinals coach Scott Gordon said. "I think they were probably the best team on our schedule, and that's saying something being that we're in the OCC-Central (Division)."

Gordon is relying on senior Jonathan Highley, a 6-foot, 295-pound nose tackle, to help lead the defense, and junior Jalen Wells (6-1, 175) is expected to lead the Cardinals' offense. According to Gordon, he will see time at quarterback and wide receiver. Junior Danny Gordon (6-0, 180) will be under center when Wells plays receiver.

"He's a very explosive player," coach Gordon said of Wells. "He'll be playing a lot of wide receiver on offense, too. We want to get the ball in his hands as many ways as we can. His roles will shift and he's that good a player where he can make a difference."

Senior wide receiver Jay Smallwood (6-0, 185) and junior running back Tony Harvard (5-10, 180) also are expected to help lead the offense.

"It's always nice to play against a higher class of opponent like a Division I team," Pioneers senior linebacker A.J. Detweiler said. "The atmosphere's always nice because a lot of people come out to the game."

Senior Andy Fooce (6-1, 190) will be making his first varsity start at quarterback for the Pioneers after playing running back and linebacker last season.

"We like our quarterback to be able to run and throw and Andy certainly is really good at both," Pioneers coach Steve Coate said.

Coach Gordon understands the importance of winning the opener.

"It sets the tone for the rest of the season," he said. "If you win that first one, it gives you a tremendously greater chance of having a winning season."