No. 5 Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco and No. 17 Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward are eager to go up against each other this weekend in a game that figures to have major implications in the RivalsHigh 100 national championship picture.
In a way, however, the teams won't have to wait until Saturday night at Fordham University in the Bronx to do so - they seemingly get a taste each day at practice.
The teams are virtual mirror images of each other.
The teams success is predicated on its defense;
Each teams offenses are run-heavy and rely on a quarterback who is proving himself each week to manage the game and not make mistakes;
And they both have straight-forward coaches who try to get the most out of their players.
Rick Fenotti is only in his second full season with St. Edward, but last year his team won an Ohio Division I title and finished No. 3 nationally.
"I am a simple-minded guy," Finotti told RivalsHigh. "No one is ever going to accuse me of inventing anything. You get the ball; you try to get it to second-and-medium. You gain a little on second down and try to move the chains on third."
Which side makes fewer mistakes would seemingly have the inside track in the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.
Big games are nothing new to these two schools. This week, however, Don Bosco may have an edge in experience as it already has played Mission Viejo (Calif.) High, Bradenton (Fla.) Manatee and Oradell (N.J.) Bergen Catholic.
"We're always eager to test ourselves against the best," defensive back and running back Jabrill Peppers said.
And they never back down from a fight.
The team, which spent two weeks atop the national poll, has actually trailed in the fourth quarter twice this season, rallying to win against both Manatee and Bergen Catholic.
After opening the year with four games of consequence in its first five, the rest of the season will be a much smoother ride against its New Jersey opponents. An expected second matchup with Bergen Catholic could be the only potential stumbling block to a Top 5 finish with a blemish-free season.
St. Edward has had its share of close shaves. It almost lost its first game of the season against Cleveland (Ohio) Glenville, but a failed two-point conversion and a missed field goal at the end of regulation preserved the perfect season for the Eagles.
"We just took advantage of our opportunities," Finotti said at the time. "A lot of the teams we have to play this season will not give us those opportunities."
He was speaking specifically to this game.
"If we think we can come out like that, specifically against St. X or Bosco, we will be in for it."
Unlike Bosco, St. Edward is just getting to the thick of its season.
After wins over name-brand teams that appear to be on the downside of their national runs - Glenville, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Penn Hills, Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney, Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder and Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson - St. Edward begins a stretch of game against Don Bosco, and fellow Top 50 teams, Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier and Cincinnati (Ohio) Moeller. The Ohio Division I playoff will likely feature at least three more nationally ranked teams making the St. Edward schedule one of the most difficult to navigate of any in the country.
But that's to come. This week, it's Bosco. And in this game, the team plays fundamental football figures to have the edge.
"It isn't innovation, it is execution," Finotti said. "That's the name of the game."
This week, it's a game that nearly didn't happen.
The matchup is part of a three-game event. The other games will feature Oradel (N.J.) Bergen Catholic against Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate followed by Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep taking on Youngstown (Ohio) Ursuline.
The games originally were scheduled to take place at West Point, but the logistics of playing at a federal facility forced a switch.
"We had a lot of bumps in the road," event organizer Ken Halloy said. "There was a lot of back and forth surrounding the venue. For the first time as a promoter, I let the tail wag the dog because the game was so big."
When: Saturday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting
Rankings: Don Bosco (5-0), No. 1 in New Jersey
St. Edward (6-0), No. 2 in Ohio
Don Bosco wins if: The defense forces turnovers and a few short fields. It will be hard for either team to drive the field on the other so the opportunistic Ironmen will need to jump a route, get a big return, make a play in one of the other facets of the game to take the pressure off the offense. The offensive line will need to be ready to play much better than it has as well. This will be the best defensive line that the team has faced all season and with the struggles it showed on the road against Manatee blocking is a concern entering the contest.
St. Edward wins if: The offense can start strong. The Eagles have been a slow starting team on the season - save for the game against Tampa Jefferson - and that slow start will play into the hands of Don Bosco. Three and outs will put the field position battle in the favor of Don Bosco and really hurt the chances of the visitor. The offensive line is finally back at full strength after injuries the first three games gave multiple looks up front and it will have to do its best job on the season as the Don Bosco defense front will be the best it has seen all season.
Prediction: This is a game that likely will not be determined into the fourth quarter as both teams have proven they are not ones to run and hide from opponents. The physical and fundamental brand that both play should make for an excitingly low scoring matchup between two of the best defenses nationally. Both have had this game circled since the game was announced and each know what is at stake. St. Ed could have the lead late but Bosco has been able to pull games out with its back against the wall. It is hard to pick against either team in what may be the out-of-state game of the year. - Don Bosco 16, St. Edward 10.
Game of the Week Predictions: 5-2 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)