After winning its first two games under first-year coach Matthew Kidwell, the New Albany High School football team showed it still had things to tweak in losing to Licking Heights 27-24 on Sept. 7.
The team the Eagles will play host to Friday, Sept. 14, is Gahanna Lincoln, which is in a similar situation after beating Springboro 17-14 on Sept. 7 to improve to 1-2.
The Lions and Kidwell have one other major thing in common: Kidwell is a 1992 Gahanna graduate and a 2014 inductee into the school's athletics hall of fame.
Kidwell, who was nicknamed "Bubba" in high school and was a quarterback for the Lions who went on to play for Muskingum, took over in the offseason after serving as New Albany's defensive coordinator for five seasons under former coach Pat Samanich.
"We've been in this position before," Kidwell said. "We can't let this loss define our season. We can mine this for some positives. This can be a turning point for us moving forward. We're going to have a hard week of practice this week and we're going to prepare like any other week."
New Albany lost to the Lions 40-20 last season but went on to go 8-5 and earn a Division II, Region 7 runner-up finish. Gahanna, which was a Division I, Region 2 playoff qualifier last season and finished 7-5, also sports a new look with just three returning starters.
The Lions edged the Eagles 28-24 in 2016 in the first meeting between the programs.
"(New Albany is) good, and this is going to be a huge game for us," Gahanna defensive coordinator Bryce Culver said. "There's such a connection between the programs. Two years ago they kind of battled back on us. You play those wing-T teams and they can turn into a dogfight quickly."
New Albany opened with wins over Westerville South (31-7 on Aug. 24) and Dublin Scioto (37-21 on Aug. 30). It finished with 305 yards of offense against Licking Heights but allowed the game-winning touchdown pass with 47 seconds left.
Luke Muter was 7-for-15 passing for 63 yards and one touchdown, Alex Cox rushed 16 times for 128 yards and one touchdown and Michiah Burton added 14 carries for 83 yards and one score to lead the offense against the Hornets.
New Albany was whistled 11 times for 115 yards in penalties.
"The penalties (did not help), but Licking Heights played a great game," Kidwell said. "They had a great game plan and their coach did a wonderful job of preparing them. We just made mistakes and they capitalized on them. We couldn't get off the field on third down. They put drives together that we didn't stop. There were times we played well, but when we really needed to come up with a big stop and force them to punt, we couldn't do it."
Gahanna gave up 241 yards of offense to Springboro but held the Panthers to a pair of touchdowns.
Will Thomas threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Kiss and Justus Harris rushed 22 times for 102 yards and one touchdown.
Springboro cut it to 17-14 in the fourth quarter but Gahanna moved to the Panthers' 1-yard line on the game's final possession before running out the clock.
Zajdi Hoxha had a forced fumble to lead the defense.
"I'm just now figuring out how my team works because almost everyone is new this year," Thomas said. "There's always a new (player) that can step up."