Last season, in need of a boost to its playoff resume, the Gahanna Lincoln football team pulled out a 41-40 double-overtime win over New Albany in Week 4.
The victory ultimately helped rescue a regular season in which the Lions went 5-5 but qualified for the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.
Gahanna's situation entering Week 4 this season might be even more urgent considering it lost 38-21 at Hartley on Sept. 13 to fall to 0-3, but coach Bruce Ward isn't talking about salvaging anything.
On Friday, Sept. 20, the Lions will look to stay perfect against visiting New Albany after beating the Eagles each of the past three seasons, but a victory would overshadow any type of rivalry that has been developing between two programs that will be a part of the same OCC division beginning next year.
"We can still go 7-3," Ward said. "That seems to be my conversation every week, but we look at it one game at a time. We've got to get better. We've just got to win a game. I'm not worried about the end of the season, we've got to get better. We're struggling."
Gahanna's opposition has had much to do with that, as its first three opponents are a combined 9-0.
New Albany enters the matchup at 2-1 and coming off a 41-14 victory over Licking Heights on Sept. 13 in which Reed Hall rushed for three touchdowns and a program-record 340 yards on 29 carries.
Things inside the Eagles' coaching staff also have gotten back to normal.
Coach Bubba Kidwell experienced chest pain during the Eagles' 48-21 loss to Westerville South on Aug. 30 that later was determined to be a heart attack. He coached from the press box in the Eagles' 28-24 victory over Dublin Scioto on Sept. 6 before returning to the sidelines against Licking Heights.
Kidwell, a 1992 Gahanna graduate and a 2014 inductee into the Lions' athletics Hall of Fame, is in his second season as Eagles coach.
"I'm very fortunate that (the coaching staff has) been together for a long time in the fact that things didn't skip a beat with me being gone," Kidwell said. "It's definitely good to be back."
Gahanna is hoping a more balanced offensive attack can help it ward off another strong ground game from New Albany a week after the Lions allowed 361 yards rushing and 408 total yards against Hartley.
Lions quarterback Will Thomas threw touchdowns of 47 yards to Cam Morris and 70 yards to Kobie Stillwell but was limited to 9-for-28 passing for 214 yards with one interception. He completed just three of his first 20 passes.
Running back Travis Whittaker rushed 17 times for 134 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown with 7 minutes, 41 seconds left.
Gahanna later moved to the Hartley 8 on its final possession but couldn't convert.
"You've got to be able to break one-on-one coverage and at times our receivers were open and we just didn't find them and at times they were locked up and we had all day," Ward said. "I'm just disappointed in our total effort. To me, it's not Xs and Os, not schemes, really not our opponent. Our opponents are good, we know that. That's the way it is year in, year out. We've got to toughen up and just play a little tougher. We're not getting it done defensively."
New Albany had 529 yards of offense against Licking Heights, as quarterback Brock Tibbits completed six of 12 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown and rushed for one score and Mechi McCaulley had 13 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown to complement Hall behind an offensive line featuring Braedon Elwer, Garrett St. John, Tim Marshall, Kevin Spelman and Jaron Webster.
New Albany also caused five turnovers, with Kole Clay and Brody Kidwell both having an interception.
"Gahanna was a huge letdown last year, but that is in the past now," Hall said. "We're a totally different team and we're determined to go 1-0 this week. We're all going to be pushing a little harder this week preparing ourselves for this four-quarter fight. The whole team is pumped."