If recent history holds form, either the Olentangy Orange or Worthington Kilbourne high school football team will reach the postseason this season.
In each of the past five seasons, one or the other has qualified for the playoffs. But right now, both the Pioneers and Wolves are concentrating on their season opener Friday, Aug. 24, at Orange.
"Last season is the first time I recall the game not being close into the fourth quarter," said Orange coach Zebb Schroeder, whose team beat Kilbourne 32-7 in Week 1 last season and went on to finish 9-2, losing to Gahanna 38-37 in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs. "It's almost always a great battle."
The Wolves finished 3-7 a year ago, marking their first losing season since 2012. That also marked the last time neither Kilbourne nor Orange qualified for the playoffs. The Pioneers also made the postseason in 2016, while the Wolves reached the playoffs three consecutive years from 2013-15.
"Orange is very disciplined and fundamental and they come at you with enthusiasm," Kilbourne coach Vince Trombetti said. "We'll need to play with aggression and be physical. Football is a fight. You either throw a few punches or you get hit in the face."
Before last season, Kilbourne had won the previous four meetings, defeating Orange 29-28 in 2016, 31-28 in overtime in 2015, 42-0 in 2014 and 28-7 in 2013.
"We've had success the past couple of years and we want to build off that momentum and keep improving every year," Schroeder said. "Every year we want to take at least one more step up the ladder.
"We saw Kilbourne scrimmage (Aug. 17) and they looked very good. Their offensive line looked in sync and they've got a great (running) back in (senior Elijah Young). They look a lot stronger than they were last year."
Senior Robbie Dayhuff competed with junior Spencer Hawkins during the preseason for the starting job at quarterback in Orange's spread wing-T offense and is a returning starter in the secondary, while Mark Roberts was expected to step into the starting role at running back after rushing for 360 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries as a backup last season.
But the most talked about two-way starter for the Pioneers is 6-foot-6, 245-pound senior Zach Harrison, who was first-team all-state last season after registering 18.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 34.5 total tackles as a defensive lineman. Harrison is rated by several recruiting services as the state's top college recruit in the 2019 class at any position. He also played tight end last season but will see time at running back this year, according to Schroeder.
"Obviously, Zach Harrison is the real deal," Trombetti said. "But they've got a terrific defensive front with good linebacker play, too. They've got a lot of athletes. We've got to get the job done up front against them on both sides of the ball and match their physical play."
Kilbourne is hoping that a strong offseason in the weight room, combined with the return of offensive linemen Kyle Bartok, R.J. Mehan, Sam Schick and Hayden Shaffer, will help provide more offensive production this season with Young at running back and Grayson Timms at quarterback.
"I'm pleased with the way we're playing offensively heading into the season, but we have a lot of work left to do defensively," Trombetti said. "Kaleb Dave is playing well as expected on the defensive line, Brian Wilson has been a nice surprise at outside linebacker and Nick Streets is doing fine at linebacker. But we need 11 guys on the same page and being aggressive in order to win the battle."