For the past 10 seasons, the Gahanna Lincoln High School football team has opened against Mifflin.

For the past 10 seasons, the Gahanna Lincoln High School football team has opened against Mifflin.

One advantage of the matchup was the geographical proximity, but in recent years the quality of the game left something to be desired. Although the series had been competitive in the 1990s and earlier this decade, Gahanna won the three most recent games by an average score of 52-2.

When that contract expired after last season, Gahanna coach John Snoad decided to drop Mifflin from the schedule and look elsewhere.

In terms of geography, Friday's opener at DeSales won't be much of a change from Mifflin, but the level of competition certainly should be much, much different.

"It's a huge game, and the emotions are going to be very high," Snoad said. "To take nothing away from Columbus Mifflin, but that game hasn't had that kind of emotion attached to it for Gahanna. I think that's going to be very different for our kids."

DeSales has rolled to convincing wins in its opener the past two seasons, beating Lima Shawnee 20-0 in 2007 and 28-0 last year. Coach Ryan Wiggins said the opportunity to get in a local game against a solid Division I program was too good for his team to pass up.

"We don't always get to play local teams, being in only a three-team league (in the CCL)," Wiggins said. "We like to play local games. It's exciting for us, and I know it's exciting for them. It's sort of a local rivalry if you will, or it will become one. And we don't shy away from too many people. That's the just the reality of our schedule."

Gahanna was in a transitional season last year as Snoad took over for Mike Lanza, who had coached the team since 1995. Snoad installed new offensive and defensive schemes, and the Lions struggled down the stretch and finished 4-6.

DeSales continued to build on the success from its first two seasons under Wiggins last fall, going 13-1 and reaching a Division II state semifinal before losing to Cincinnati Anderson 14-10. Since Wiggins took over in 2006, DeSales is 34-6 and has not lost a regular-season game since his first season.

There's no question that Gahanna expects to be better in its second year under Snoad, especially since it has about half of its starting lineup back. The Lions are committed to their spread offense, and they have experience at the running back and receiver spots, including running backs Earl Cunningham and Rashawn Ponder, fullback Nick Earl and receiver Brice Frentzel. Cunningham also is one of the area's best kick returners.

Heading into this week, Snoad wasn't sure if junior Tanner Zwelling or senior Philip Johnson would start at quarterback. Zwelling is more of a pocket passer who spent last season as the backup, whereas Johnson is a versatile athlete who likely will end up on the field somewhere even if he doesn't start at quarterback. Protecting those quarterbacks will be an offensive line that includes a mix of returning starters and first-year contributors.

Although DeSales did lose linebacker Josh Kusan, last year's Super 25 captain, off its defense, it still has plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Michigan State recruit Travis Jackson (6-foot-5, 265 pounds) and Chris Rock (6-5, 245) give the Stallions an imposing presence on the defensive line, and Northwestern recruit Chi Chi Ariguzo (6-3, 215) at outside linebacker and defensive back Adam Griffin (5-9, 190) are big-time talents as well. Like Jackson and Ariguzo, Griffin has offers from Division I schools.

Snoad said he doesn't expect any surprises from the Stallions' 4-3 defense, which allowed just 9.9 points per game last year.

"You know exactly what they're going to be in, you know how to get them into particular looks," Snoad said. "They're very honest and up front with what they're going to do. They show it on film, and they make you beat them. They're not someone that's going to beat themselves with a lot of mistakes."

Offensively, the biggest question mark for DeSales is at quarterback, where Mitch Herbert and Nick Gentile are competing to replace Thomas Gentile, who combined for over 1,900 yards passing and rushing last season. Neither Herbert nor Nick Gentile has completed a pass at the varsity level, although Herbert did see action in five games last season. Wiggins said he has been happy with the performance of both during the preseason.

Griffin will be the featured back in the Stallions' option attack after rushing for 776 yards last season, but several other players likely will get carries as well. Jackson and Alex Vance (6-4, 235) lead a formidable offensive line.

Gahanna's defense has experience throughout, including defensive end Darien Moody, cornerback C.J. Bryant, free safety Casey Goad and linebackers Tyler Hayes and Emaari Watson. However, other than Moody, the defensive line is young, and Snoad plans to use a two-deep rotation, at least early on.

Wiggins said his offense will need to stay poised against a Gahanna defense that plans to apply pressure.

"Defensively, they're very aggressive and they attack from everywhere," he said. "Especially early in the season when offenses are trying to find themselves, that can be a difficult thing to combat because they come after you. So we've got a good challenge here this week."