The past four seasons, the Hilliard Darby and Hilliard Davidson high school football teams met in an OCC-Central Division contest during the final week of the regular season.

The past four seasons, the Hilliard Darby and Hilliard Davidson high school football teams met in an OCC-Central Division contest during the final week of the regular season.

Even though OCC realignment has made their matchup a non-league game, the contest still holds special meaning for both sides. The Panthers and Wildcats will meet on Friday, Aug. 31, at Davidson.

"Anytime you're playing kids that you grew up with, the kids get excited," said Darby coach John Santagata, whose team has moved to the OCC-Cardinal. "Every year, they've gotten excited and look forward to this game, for sure."

Davidson has won the past four meetings, including the last three by shutout. The Wildcats' 21-0 win last season at Darby secured their second consecutive OCC-Central title and 12th overall OCC championship. It also clinched the top seed for Davidson in the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. The Wildcats lost to Pickerington Central 21-0 in the regional final.

Davidson coach Brian White vividly recalls the Panthers' lone win in the series, 21-10 in 2007 in what was the teams' first meeting. He believes that because of Darby's talented returnees and his team's overall lack of experience, the Panthers are poised to end their four-game losing streak in the series.

"At this point, I believe Darby is the best team in Hilliard," White said. "They have a chance to be one of the better teams in central Ohio. They have some really good players returning from last year. A couple Division I college kids that are difference makers, so it's certainly a huge challenge for us, but it's a rivalry game and anything can happen and hopefully our kids will be ready to play."

Darby senior running back and defensive back Caleb Day has verbally committed to Illinois and teammate Cameron Kohl, a senior running back and linebacker, also has received interest from Division I colleges.

Also on the line for Davidson is its 23-game regular-season winning streak. The Wildcats' last regular-season loss came against Dublin Coffman, 10-7 in week eight of the 2009 season.

According to White, Davidson did not play well in a 26-14 win over Grove City in its opener Aug. 24.

"We played very poorly," he said. "Some of those times you play a game and you think you did bad and you watch the film and you actually did good, or sometimes you think you did good and you watch the film and you did bad. I thought we did bad (against Grove City) before I watched the film. We did worse. It was ugly."

Running back E.J. Jennings, who returned to the Wildcats' lineup after missing the final eight games last season with a broken ankle, ran for 176 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries.

That same night, Darby opened with a 71-28 win over visiting Whetstone.

The Panthers received a balanced effort on offense, led by running back Michael Porter, who ran for 99 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. Ben Radcliff rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and Kohl had 84 yards and two touchdowns on four carries.

Whetstone junior quarterback Ramroth Finnegan completed 37 of 73 passes for 514 yards and four touchdowns.

This week's matchup will be a sharp contrast, as the Wildcats, like the Panthers, rely on their ground attack. Darby rushed for 473 yards and nine touchdowns on 44 carries against Whetstone, and Davidson ran for 302 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries against Grove City.

"We have to strive to play mistake-free football. That's extremely important," Santagata said. "Davidson is a team that rarely hurts themselves. It's important that we play intense football for four quarters. Obviously, they're a run-first team and we just have to defend the run as best as possible."