Considering that the Thomas Worthington football team is the only one to beat Canal Winchester in each of the past two seasons, it might be easy to call the Cardinals the Indians' nemesis.
A 34-21 Thomas win last year was Canal Winchester's only loss of the season, and it ultimately kept the Indians out of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs despite a 9-1 record.
But as far as Indians coach Josh Stratton is concerned, the biggest thing his team must do Friday, Aug. 30, when it plays host to the Cardinals is finishing what it starts.
"We have to get this monkey off our back," Stratton said. "We led in both of those games and couldn't hold on. Showing up and playing four quarters is our biggest emphasis. We have to continue to remind this group that last year's team went 9-1. This group hasn't done anything yet. It's up to them to write their own story. We have to work every day like we haven't done anything."
Thomas also beat Canal Winchester 27-20 in double overtime in 2017. That was not only Stratton's first game with the Indians, but Matt Zingery's debut as Thomas coach.
The Cardinals went 4-6 in 2017 and 3-7 last year.
"Week 1 is crucial for us," Zingery said. "Canal Winchester has been a very successful program in recent years. For us to get off to a good start and reach some of the goals we have set for ourselves, the Week 1 game is going to be huge. I'd be willing to bet Canal feels the same way. Both teams realize that it will be a huge first game in terms of what we're trying to accomplish."
Canal Winchester returns most of its top skill position players, including quarterback Jack Beeler, running back Stephan Byrd and versatile threat Tyler Toledo.
Beeler, who is entering his third year as a starter, completed 106 of 178 passes for 1,433 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions last year. Byrd rushed for 1,258 yards and 10 touchdowns on 217 carries as a freshman and Toledo, who had 70 carries for 507 yards and seven touchdowns, is a running back and slot receiver as well as a starting safety on defense.
Tight end Hunter Allen is a Youngstown State commit.
Thomas quarterback James Gaiters completed 13 of 27 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns last season, playing the second half of the season after an injury to 2019 graduate Charlie Rhoades.
The Cardinals return four starters on defense in linebackers Reese Dykstra and Bassil Hasan, end Austin Parsons and tackle Alex Ritchie. Dykstra had a team-high 81 tackles last year.
"They're very similar to last year schematically," Stratton said. "They'll show even fronts defensively and they're athletic on offense. They're much improved up front. They run a spread, but they'll do their best to be balanced."
Depth and his team's experience at skill positions is what has Zingery optimistic that Thomas can challenge for its first winning season since 1999. The Cardinals haven't finished at .500 since 2009.
"We've just got a plethora of skill guys we feel really good about," Zingery said. "We feel pretty good about our (lines) not having to rotate at all and the same with our linebackers. The fewer guys we have playing two ways, the better. Still, we have some guys who will go both ways."