WHEELING - The leaves on the trees haven't even started to change colors yet and Wheeling Central and Linsly are prepping for their annual battle at Wheeling Island Stadium.
What was the regular-season finale for both schools for many years is now an early-season litmus test. And, while the city rivalry is kicking off in September instead of late October or early November, both coaches expect the same playoff-like intensity.
''This is a big one ... always has been,'' Wheeling Central coach Mike Young said of the game, which kicks off at 7 Friday night.
File Photo by Alex Kozlowski
J.T. Nixon helped lessen the load on C.J. Burch last week. Nixon will look to do the same Friday night when the Maroon Knights tackle rival Linsly.
''It's been great for both schools and I think it brings out the best in both programs.''
Linsly coach B.J. Depew said about the only difference with playing the game earlier in the season is it gives his staff less time to prepare for what the Maroon Knights offer; which is a lot in his estimation.
''They really are a complete program,'' Depew said. ''Their coaches do an excellent job in getting them ready to play the style the want. They get them to win year after year. I have a lot of respect for what their kids do. No matter the names, they always play well.''
Young and his staff have always been lauded for how they prepare their players. And the mentors have been tested again.
With quarterback Parker Henry out for the year and Gary Gwynn also hurt, Young and his staff have again had to shuffle players around and get players geared toward playing new positions.
''Our goals haven't changed,'' Young said. ''We're going to get better every day and that's what we're trying to do.''
After dropping the season-opener at home to currently unbeaten Harrison Central team, some fans might have thought the sky was falling. But the last two weeks, Central has picked up impressive victories against Madonna and Westinghouse.
''I'm proud of our kids, they've stepped up,'' Young said. ''To be 2-1 at this point is a credit to, not only the kids, but the coaches.''
C.J. Burch and Matt Gruber have assumed the quarterback duties for the Maroon Knights.
''They complement each other very well,'' Young said. ''The players are rallying around them.''
While the Maroon Knights are searching for their third straight victory, the Cadets are looking to rebound after back-to-back road losses.
Linsly fell to 1-2 with a loss at Allderdice last week.
''The bottom line was we ended up with five turnovers,'' Depew said. ''They were able to push our offensive line around and stop our runners. We only had 40 offensive plays.''
Chinelo Oparanozie was held to 54 yards on 12 carries.
Depew is concerned with his team's slow starts. Linsly's offensive has only scored one first-touchdown all season.
''We've been starting slow and having to rally,'' he said.
''Last week, every time we got some momentum we couldn't put points on the board.''
And Depew knows another first-half lull this Friday won't do.
''One thing that gets overlooked is that when you prepare for them you have to try and emulate them in practice,'' he said. ''And that's a very tough thing to do.''