The rivalry between the Olentangy and Orange high school football teams always has been heated, but much more is on the line this season.
The teams are jockeying for position in the OCC-Buckeye Division race and in the Division I, Region 2 playoff chase. Olentangy is 5-1 overall and Orange is 6-0 overall for the first time in program history, but the Braves are second in this week's Region 2 computer projections behind Toledo Whitmer and the Pioneers are third.
The top eight teams in the region qualify for the postseason, but the winner Friday, Oct. 6, at Olentangy will get a boost in terms of playoff points.
"Intra-district games used to be played in Week 1 or 2, but now they are played later in the season and have a new dynamic now that they are league games," said Orange coach Zebb Schroeder, whose team opened league play with a 26-0 win over Westerville North on Sept. 29. "Both teams are playing well and both want to get an edge in the conference race."
Olentangy leads the series 6-2. The Braves won 27-7 in 2010, 27-21 in 2011, 28-3 in 2012, 45-2 in 2013, 36-0 in 2014 and 43-20 in 2015. The Pioneers won the first meeting, 27-6 in 2009, and 17-14 last season.
"It's not going to be any problem motivating this team for Orange," Olentangy coach Mark Solis said after his team defeated Westerville South 42-23 on Sept. 29 in its OCC-Buckeye opener. "These kids, this coaching staff, we didn't like how that tasted last year (in the 17-14 loss). We are geared up. We're going to have a tremendous week of preparation."
The Braves are led by quarterback Riley Bruening, who has completed 66 of 105 passes for 818 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has rushed for 362 yards and three touchdowns on 69 carries. His top targets are Caden Kaiser (25 catches, 430 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Luke Riedel (19 catches, 182 yards, one touchdown).
Ali Iverson leads the Braves running attack with 370 yards and six touchdowns on 91 carries, and Jaden Konadu has 241 yards and one score on 43 rushes.
"They do a lot to challenge you, whether it's their offense, their defense or their special teams," Schroeder said. "They do it in all three phases of the game. We have to put forth a lot of work so the kids are prepared for what's in store for them."
Graham Starn leads a balanced Orange running game with 368 yards and five touchdowns on 74 carries. Jack Applegate is close behind with 329 yards and eight scores on 50 attempts.
Quarterback Luke Schmeling has completed 42 of 92 passes for 662 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries.
Manny Anderson has 21 receptions for 298 yards and two touchdowns, and Zach Harrison has six catches for 102 yards and three scores.
"As we're going into Orange, we're going to play a really good football team," Solis said. "So for us to get to where we want to go, we have to clean some things up."
The Pioneers recorded their second shutout of the season against North and have given up only 6.3 points per game.
Harrison, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound standout on the defensive line, returned from a leg injury to record 5.5 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, against the Warriors. Senior linebacker Bryce Houston, an Ohio University recruit, leads Orange with 33 tackles, including 6.5 for loss.
The Olentangy defense is led by senior linebackers Justin Stewart (54 tackles) and Xavier Harrison (52 tackles) and senior defensive back Brayden Chitty (50 tackles). Defensive linemen Jacob and Zach Slade are brothers who have committed to Michigan State.