The Reynoldsburg and Upper Arlington high school football teams both found themselves needing an opening night opponent heading into this season, and informal discussions between the schools quickly turned into a meeting at least one coach hopes could be the beginning of a series.
The Golden Bears will play host to the Raiders on Friday, Aug. 24, in a game pitting two Division I, Region 2 playoff hopefuls. Both teams have won 20 games over the past three seasons but advanced to the postseason just once, in 2015.
Reynoldsburg had played New Albany in its season opener each of the past six seasons. UA opened at home against St. Charles last year as well as in 2016 and faced Dublin Jerome in its 2015 opener.
"It's never easy to schedule a (non-league) game. In this day and age, you have a lot of teams who don't want to play each other," Bears coach Joel Cutler said. "We discussed this with (Reynoldsburg) and it came together. We had great conversations with them. They're physical and fast, especially on defense. They will be a great test for us."
The Raiders went 7-3 last year and finished ninth in the Region 3 computer ratings, .05 of a point shy of the eighth and final playoff berth.
UA finished 4-6 a year ago, marking only its second losing season since 1963 and first since 2004.
Reynoldsburg has four Football Bowl Subdivision commits in two-way lineman Jay Amburgey (Ohio University), defensive linemen Jeremiah Burton (Ohio), defensive back and receiver Camby Goff (Air Force) and receiver Mershawn Rice (Purdue). Last season, Rice caught 36 passes for 701 yards and eight touchdowns, and senior running back Guy Cowans-Wright rushed for 668 yards and six touchdowns.
The Bears return eight starters on offense, including senior quarterback Sammy Sass and lineman Jud Utgard, a Brown University commit, and seven on defense. Three of those starters are at linebacker in seniors Tommy Dilz, Nick Fisanick and Ben Krimm.
Boston College commit Jackson Ness anchors the Bears' defensive line as a weak-side tackle.
"I have the utmost respect for Joel Cutler. He's going to have a team ready to play," Raiders coach Buddy White said.
"They're very disciplined (and) going to be very physical, they're big and I'm sure they've got a chip on their shoulder, pretty disappointed in how their season went last year. They're not in awe of Reynoldsburg.
"UA has been known as one of the top programs in central Ohio and we respect that quite a bit. They have some good, hard-nosed players and we're going to have to bring our A game to beat them."
UA leads the all-time series 13-2, but this is the first meeting between the teams since Oct. 26, 2007, when the Bears won the regular-season finale 28-7 to clinch a Region 3 playoff berth. Both teams were in the OCC-Buckeye Division at the time.
Reynoldsburg and UA currently are members of the OCC-Ohio and OCC-Central, respectively.
The Raiders moved from Region 3 to Region 2 this year, joining UA, so a postseason meeting is possible. The teams also are scheduled to play in the 2019 season opener at Reynoldsburg, but Cutler said he and White are hoping for more.
"This is something we'd like to see continue for a while," Cutler said.