Two teams with measurable reasons to feel confident will match up Friday, Nov. 9, when the top-seeded Reynoldsburg High School football team plays fourth-seeded Olentangy Liberty in a Division I, Region 2 semifinal at DeSales.
The Raiders are coming off a regular season in which they beat both Pickerington programs, North and Central, for the first time in the same season while also earning a share of their first league championship since 1993 by tying Lancaster atop the OCC-Ohio Division.
Throw in a 52-0 victory over eighth-seeded Toledo Start on Nov. 2 in its playoff opener, and the feeling of optimism reverberating throughout Reynoldsburg's program is understandable.
The Patriots have reasons to feel good, too, especially when keeping their recent postseason track record in mind.
Liberty is coming off back-to-back state semifinal appearances, which means its juniors and seniors got an extra four weeks of fall practice each of the past two seasons.
"I have a lot of respect for (Patriots coach) Steve Hale," Raiders coach Buddy White said. "Most importantly, they are the two-time defending regional champions. We've taken care of a lot of milestones, and to have the opportunity to knock off the two-time regional champs, that will be big."
Reynoldsburg is 10-1 and has listed winning a regional title for the first time as one of its biggest remaining goals during what is its third postseason. The win over Start was just the second playoff victory for the Raiders, with the other coming in 2001 when they lost in a regional semifinal.
Liberty, which went 13-1 in 2016 and 11-3 last season, endured a 0-2 start and didn't have starting quarterback Mitchell Okuley for more than two games because of injury.
Still, it did enough to earn a home playoff game, which it won over fifth-seeded Gahanna 14-7 on Nov. 2 to improve to 7-4.
The Patriots are 10-10 all-time in the playoffs.
"We'll just have to figure out what to do to get ourselves ready," Hale said. "I've seen some different clips of them and I know they're really big. They're fast, so we'll have to do our best to keep them in front of us and take away their big plays and try to make them have long drives I would think, but it's going to be a great challenge. (They're) very impressive. It's going to be a challenge, so we're going to have to be really, really disciplined and play a smart game on both sides of the ball."
Another trait both teams share is steady running games.
Junior Aidan Kenley gets the bulk of the rushes for the Patriots. He had 28 carries for 120 yards against the Lions to increase his season totals to 918 yards on 212 attempts.
Okuley threw for more than 2,000 yards last season but has been more of a multi-threat this fall, rushing for 374 yards and 12 touchdowns on 133 carries and completing 89 of 183 passes for 1,226 yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Against Gahanna, Okuley threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Ritter with 6 minutes, 47 seconds remaining for what proved to be the game-winning points.
It was the first play of the game for Ritter, who has split time between junior varsity and varsity.
Liberty's defense gave up 282 yards to Gahanna but limited the big-play abilities of Lions running back Justus Harris, who had 54 yards on 13 carries.
"We had a great battle with (Gahanna) last year in the second round of the playoffs and we knew their defense was going to be really strong," Hale said. "They do a great job of getting that team ready, so we knew we were going to get first downs and put points on the board.
"It was 7-7 (at halftime) and it was perfectly calm in our locker room. I think we had a little bit of confidence that we could get it done if we played well."
The Raiders were impressive in nearly every facet against Start, forcing seven turnovers and outgaining the Spartans 313-45 in total offense.
Nine running backs carried the ball, with Courtland Bullard rushing 14 times for 46 yards and MarcAnthony Gray gaining 47 yards on five carries to complement a strong performance by quarterback Michael Whatley.
Whatley was 11-for-17 for 145 yards with four touchdowns and has completed 106 of 189 passes for 1,626 yards with 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the season.
Shon Strickland had two touchdown receptions, and James Dean and Andree' Mock had one touchdown catch apiece.
Breyon Eddings had three interceptions.
"Our kids played with great intensity and that was one of the things we wanted to focus on because we understood that all teams in the playoffs turn it up a notch," White said. "I'm pretty happy with how everything went. Our defense was consistent and as I told the kids, the only way you win championships is by playing championship defense."
The Reynoldsburg-Liberty winner will play second-seeded Dublin Coffman or third-seeded Toledo Whitmer for the regional championship Nov. 16 at a site to be announced.