MIDDLETOWN — Not so long ago, every football game between Shenandoah and Eastern Hancock seemed to carry some level of significance.
The two were rivals in the old White River Athletic Conference, and they were assigned to the same sectional. Success for one often came at the expense of the other.
"Part of me kind of misses that a little bit," Shenandoah head coach Scott Widner said.
Lucky for him, the schools will turn back the clock tonight when they put matching 7-0 records on the line at Dale Green Field.
Shenandoah leads the state in scoring at 55.86 points per game, and Eastern Hancock's 54.43 average ranks sixth. The Raiders are third in average margin of victory (45.43), and the Royals are tied for eighth (40.29).
Both teams have quick-hitting offenses that can score on any play, and both feature hard-hitting defenses that love to play with a lead.
Eastern Hancock has a pair of tough running backs in Spencer Gilbert and Cooper Henderson. Shenandoah answers with Lane Young and Chandler Hale.
The biggest difference is that the Royals like to go to the air a little bit more often than the Raiders. Eastern Hancock quarterback Austin Lacy will look to hit his receivers for several big plays each game. Shenandoah's Adam Lovan will look to throw when the opening's there, but is just as big a threat with his legs.
No matter how the Royals choose to move the football, it tends to be effective. Eastern Hancock has scored at least 52 points in each of the past four weeks, and it's set a school record for scoring in two of the past three games — topping out with a 72-6 blistering of Wes-Del last week.
"Gosh, they're really good," Widner said, expressing what he's seen on film. "They have a couple real good running backs, a wide receiver who can make some plays and their quarterback's good. Their offense line, they can move people up front. And they make you defend the whole field with their spread offense."
At that point, Widner paused for a beat.
"They're as good a 1A team as we've played in quite some time," he said.
Some of the Indianapolis TV stations are planning to stop by the game and include it on their late-night highlight reels. And Widner expects both schools to bring a good contingent of fans.
The relative proximity of the two schools adds another element to the proceedings.
"Our kids know all their kids from playing against them over the years," Widner said.
There's no championship on the line tonight. No conference trophy. No traveling rivalry trinket.
It's just an opportunity for two schools hoping to make long postseason runs to test themselves against one another. And perhaps get better for it in the process.
"We're getting to where we want to be this time of year," Widner said. "Our whole goal is to be playing our best football come tournament time."