Two squads coming off very different seasons will take the field Friday, Aug. 24, when the Bexley High School football team travels to Harvest Prep.
The Lions will be looking to get their first victory since November 2016 after going 0-10 last season.
The Warriors, meanwhile, will be seeking another playoff berth despite the loss of 2018 graduate Daniel Bangura, the state's all-time leader in rushing yards (9,650), touchdowns (133) and rushing touchdowns (124). Bangura, who was named state co-Player of the Year in Division VII last season, is a preferred walk-on at Ohio State.
Bexley coach Nathan Castorena said the teams have similar offensive philosophies.
"They want to run the ball and establish the ground game, just like we do," said Castorena, whose team lost to Harvest Prep 30-0 last season. "They want to control the line and be physical. They are similar to us in philosophy and style and they are definitely trying to control the game. They are similar to us in numbers and will play a lot of two-way players. They are physical when they come off the ball. They get after it."
The Lions have won four of the six meetings since the teams began their season-opening series in 2012.
In addition to winning last fall, Harvest Prep earned a 34-6 victory in 2012. Bexley won 28-7 in 2013, 45-12 in 2014, 31-14 in 2015 and 41-20 in 2016.
"You usually have two evenly matched teams," said Harvest Prep coach Milan Smith, whose team finished 9-2 last year after losing to Hannibal River 39-34 in the opening round of the Division VII playoffs.
"It has been the same or similar for multiple years, but we got it back in our favor last year."
In last year's matchup, Harvest Prep had 433 total yards, with Bangura accounting for 170 rushing, 106 receiving and 26 passing. He ran for two touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass and threw for a score.
Smith doesn't believe much will change for the Warriors with Bangura's exit.
"We know who we are," he said. "We love Daniel and Daniel is a special person and a special athlete, but our system wasn't designed around Daniel. We had 4,000 to 6,000 yards rushing every year before Daniel and we will do it after Daniel. We fully expect to continue that."
Among the key returnees for the Warriors is senior quarterback Moses Davis, who completed 74 of 110 passes for 1,115 yards and 17 touchdowns last fall.
Others expected to contribute in the backfield include senior halfback Zion Bangura and junior running back Javon Eggert, while senior Jeffrey Ray and junior Khelin Jackson both return on the offensive line.
At linebacker, Zion Bangura led the Warriors in tackles last season with more than 60, including 12 for loss.
Senior Anthony Welsh is back at quarterback for the Lions after completing 53 of 107 passes for 575 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions last year.
He also rushed for 185 yards and five touchdowns on 77 carries.
Senior running back Isaiah McFadden led Bexley in rushing a year ago with 252 yards on 65 carries.
Defensively for the Lions, junior Patrick Beck returns at linebacker after leading the team with 38 tackles, including six for loss and two sacks.
"We want to pin our ears back and attack teams defensively," Castorena said. "Our defensive guys need to get after people.
"Our defense really fits our personnel. We have a nice balance between an aggressive defense and a ball-control offense. It's a good combination for us."
All teams want to exit the first week of the season with a win, but Smith said the Warriors may have more on the line than the Lions.
"This game is huge for us," Smith said. "Because we're a Division VII school and Bexley is Division IV, it's a huge barometer for where we stand. It also helps us a lot in the playoff rankings.
"It gives us the chance for a great start. We take a lot of pride in playing that game and going against their coaches. It's probably more important for us than them in terms of computer points."