Having earned its first victory in the series last season, the Thomas Worthington High School football team will look to make it two in a row when it plays host to Worthington Kilbourne on Friday, Aug. 31.

Having earned its first victory in the series last season, the Thomas Worthington High School football team will look to make it two in a row when it plays host to Worthington Kilbourne on Friday, Aug. 31.

The Wolves lead the all-time series 3-1, but the Cardinals rallied for a 21-20 win in week 10 last year.

"It seems like we just played them," Thomas coach Scott Gordon said. "I think it's helpful that we're meeting in the second game this year because we both lost our openers after investing a great deal of time during the offseason and summer preparing for the first game.

"That's pretty deflating, but when you play a big rival the following week, it's easier to put the first week behind, work harder and be excited for the next one."

Thomas opened with a 28-6 loss to Jonathan Alder on Aug. 24. That same night, Kilbourne lost to Olentangy 17-14 in its opener.

The first four meetings between the sister schools were OCC-Central Division contests. As part of OCC realignment this summer, Kilbourne moved to the OCC-Cardinal, making this year's matchup a non-league game. OCC teams play non-league games in the first three weeks of the season and league contests over the final seven weeks.

"We were up 20-7 at halftime and lost 21-20 last year," said Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti, whose team finished 3-7 last season. "It was their first win in four tries, but it's been a good battle against them. I don't expect anything less this time.

"We're coming off a game that we let get away from us, but this will be an easy game to get back up for no matter how disappointed we were (after the loss to Olentangy)."

Thomas, which went 4-6 last year and hasn't had a winning season since going 7-3 in 1999, led Jonathan Alder 6-0 at halftime before Derritt Potts returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown to spark the Pioneers to a 21-point third quarter.

"That kickoff return put a damper on things and changed the tone, but we have to mature and learn how to shake things like that off," Gordon said. "It took the wind out of our sails emotionally. They scored another touchdown within a four-minute span and we were out of sorts.

"I thought our defense played well enough to win, but we had trouble in the kicking game. They pinned us deep on our return, then got a decent punt return for that second touchdown. We struggled with field position the whole second half. We also fumbled on our own 1. We had three turnovers and they fumbled three times and recovered them all."

Kilbourne also had a costly turnover against Olentangy, as the Wolves fumbled on their own 2 and, two plays later, Braves quarterback Andrew Horstman scored on a 3-yard run to give Olentangy a 17-7 lead with 10 minutes, 46 seconds left.

"We've got to eliminate turnovers," Trombetti said. "We had three and the one was a real killer. Plus, we had another on a punt return where our defense had to go right back out there. I think the defense played very well except for one drive. We forced two field goals and they missed one. We also held them on downs once."

That's the type of defense the Cardinals expect to see.

"Kilbourne has a tradition of having a stingy defense and they want to stop the run first," Gordon said. "They also have a really good (senior) fullback in Isaac Lumpkin and some big-play potential for a new offensive coordinator. They have a nice group over there."

The Wolves are led on offense by Lumpkin, junior quarterback Keaton Reinhart, junior running back Justin Stoner and senior receiver Jonathan Watson. Against Olentangy, Reinhart completed nine of 21 passes for 220 yards and one interception, Stoner had nine carries for 30 yards, Lumpkin scored on a 1-yard run and Watson had two receptions for 93 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown.

On defense, junior end D.J. Freer and junior nose guard Gavin Elifritz stood out against the Braves.

"Freer was absolutely outstanding, twisting inside and containing outside," Trombetti said. "Elifritz was great drawing double teams, and that freed up our inside linebackers for blitzes."

Thomas' only score against Jonathan Alder came on a 1-yard run by junior running back Tony Harvard in the second quarter. Harvard finished with 54 yards on 14 carries, and Gordon is hoping for more against Kilbourne.

"He has such explosive potential. We've just got to get him the ball more," Gordon said of Harvard. "For us to be successful against Kilbourne or anybody, he's got to get some chances in space."