Hilliard Darby High School football coach John Santagata can't think of a better way to right the ship after an opening-week loss than with a win in the season's second game.

Hilliard Darby High School football coach John Santagata can't think of a better way to right the ship after an opening-week loss than with a win in the season's second game.

Santagata knows exactly what a challenge that will be.

The Panthers will travel about a mile-and-a-half Friday, Sept. 2, to crosstown rival Davidson, seeking their first victory en route to what they hope will be a fifth consecutive playoff appearance as well as an unprecedented second consecutive win over the Wildcats.

"The biggest thing for us is we can't make the same mistakes we made last week," Santagata said of a 31-10 loss to Olentangy on Aug. 26, in which the Panthers led 10-0 by early in the second quarter. "Especially when you are playing younger guys, there is no substitute for game-time experience. There are going to be some mental and physical errors. Our philosophy is just that we have to get better by (Sept. 2) and play hard for four quarters against a team that doesn't make a lot of mistakes."

Davidson, which defeated Grove City 26-10 in its opener Aug. 26, leads the series 6-3.

Both teams long have run an option offense. The Wildcats did not attempt a pass last week, and the Panthers also occasionally thrived on the run, as Tony Santos had a 1-yard touchdown run and Blake Sawicki added a 40-yard field goal.

"Them having four guys back on the offensive line will be a luxury to help them do what they want to do," Davidson coach Brian White said. "They are probably about as close a team to us as any we will see during the regular season, and probably about as close as any team in central Ohio, not just offensively but defensively."

Running back Ryan Royer amassed 118 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries in the opener, and the Wildcats gained all 222 of their yards on the ground. They will face a Darby defense led by linemen Mo Debyan and Austin Huff and defensive backs Noah Li and Malcolm Mock.

Leaders for Davidson's defense, which limited Grove City to 162 yards, include lineman Daniel Downs, defensive backs Nick Commings and Jesse Wymard and linebacker Boston Nolty.

Neither coach downplayed the significance of the rivalry, which thrives on the schools' proximity even though the teams are in different divisions of the OCC.

"We've played for many years now, and I think the excitement builds as we progress through the week," Santagata said. "Our focus is on us internally every single week. All we can do is focus on our jobs, and hope that carries over to Friday night."

Darby defeated Davidson 15-10 last year, its first win in the series since 2012.

"Dublin Coffman is still probably considered our biggest rival, with them being in our league (the OCC-Central Division)," White said. "Upper Arlington is huge because it's a league game. But for our kids, I'm not sure Darby isn't the biggest rivalry. The kids know each other so well because of their interactions over the years, and there's such a close proximity.

"Kids are kids, and revenge might be their motivation. As coaches, we do not look at it that way. It's a game on a Friday night, and that's enough for us. The fact that it was our only loss of the regular season, that might motivate the guys, but not a lot of them were on the field last year."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave