So it comes down to this — two quality teams, vying for not only a conference championship, but spots in the playoffs.
In these parts, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Tonight, coach Dave Bors’ Riverside Beavers, already with at least a share of the Premier Athletic Conference championship stuffed in their back pockets, will invade Blue Streak Memorial Stadium to take on coach Tim Willis’ Blue Streaks.
A win by Riverside (7-2, 6-0) gives it its first outright PAC title since 2006, when coach Matt Jordan’s Beavers turned the trick.
A victory by Madison (7-2, 5-1) would result in the Beavers and Blue Streaks sharing the 2013 crown. Madison’s last championship season was 2007, when it shared the title with Riverside and Chardon.
On top of all of that, both teams are fighting for spots in the Division II, Region 3 playoffs, where Riverside stands fourth and Madison seventh entering tonight’s game.
What is a definite is this — the winner of tonight’s game will reach the postseason, Riverside having last done so in 2007, Madison in 2011.
“This is absolutely what high school football is all about,” Bors said. “We’re playing on SportsTime Ohio in Week 10 against our crosstown rivals. We share the same overall record. We barely beat them last year in overtime (21-20 at Riverside Stadium). This game has conference championship implications to it as well as playoff implications as to where the loser might not even get in the playoffs.
“This is about as big as it gets, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. This is why you work so hard for so long — to simply get an opportunity to be in a position like this.”
His counterpart agreed.
“You have to have goals and the conference and playoffs are what we work for every year,” Willis said. “This is the third year in a row that Week 10 matters. We are very proud of the consistency of the program and the effort the players and coaches put in all year round.
“The program is built on, ‘hard work equals success.’ The older players need to model for the underclassmen.”
To add even more spice to this delicious matchup is the past. Tonight’s game will mark the 48th time the Beavers and Blue Streaks will tangle on the gridiron and the series stands dead even, 23-23-1.
As you might expect, the respective coaches are both high in praise and well-versed on their opponent tonight.
“The term ‘aggressive’ comes to mind,” Bors said when asked to describe Madison. “They are an outstanding football team that is extremely aggressive. They are aggressive with their schemes, play calling and the way they play.
“They beat Chardon by more than we did, and even though they lost to South, they had six turnovers. If they didn’t have those turnovers, it could have been an entirely different ballgame. Thus, this is going to be a major battle, and we know it.”
“Riverside is a very tough football team,” Willis said. “They are very well coached and play hard for 48 minutes.
“On offense they have great balance and on defense they are very aggressive.”
“They come at you on offense with multiple looks and formations,” Bors said of the Blue Streaks. “I would call it a multiple pro set. On defense, they’ve shown a 3-4, 3-3 and a 4-2. We’re going to have to be ready for everything.
“Again, the bottom line is, they are extremely aggressive. On defense, they all fly around and are very physical. On offense, they come right at you. Their play calling is also very aggressive with fakes and onside kicks on special teams, as well as tricks on offense. We have a lot to prepare for.”
“On offense, they have a good-sized physical offensive line led by Brandon Burkholder. They have a real nice running back in Brandon Davis and receiver in Aaron Petruccelli, who give them nice balance. Their quarterback, Austin Burkholder, has a real nice arm and uses his legs well to create plays.
“On defense, they fly and are aggressive as they are led by Brandon Burkholder and Jack Holl on the D-line, as well as skill positions of Bo Ransom and Nick Law and their linebacker, Ricky Simcic. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
“Riverside runs a spread offense and a 4-4 defense,” Willis countered. “Their quarterback, Maxx Brubaker, is very good and has a great supporting cast of receivers. Marcus Jones is a big, explosive back, who we must gang tackle.
“On defense, the secondary is very aggressive and the linebackers are very physical.”
Bors knows what the Beavers, who will be without standout wide receiver and kick returner Pat Remington (shoulder), a senior, must do to prevail and make the PAC title their own.
“First, we must win the turnover battle because in a game like this, every possession is going to be beyond crucial,” he said. “Second, we need to be able to run and to stop the run. Madison is very active and physical. We need to be able to match it.
“Third, we cannot get caught up in the hype and think we are something special. There are going to be a lot of distractions from here on out and we need to be able to stay 100 percent focused.”
In turn, the Blue Streaks, who will be without senior running back-linebacker Ben Bruening (neck) and senior wide-receiver Thomas Purkey (ejection), must do much the same, Willis said.
“The No. 1 thing we have to do is play Madison football — ball-control offense and swarming defense,” he said. “We need to win the turnover battle and be solid on special teams.”
The fact Riverside is even at this point is remarkable, considering the Beavers started the season 0-2 with losses at Perry, 22-8, and to visiting West Geauga, 48-29.
“On paper, it’s extremely remarkable,” Bors said. “However, after the first two games, no one over here panicked or pointed fingers. We stuck with our plan and focused on getting better at what we do.
“Even at 0-2, every one of our goals that we set to start the season was 100-percent attainable. We never said one of our goals was to be undefeated. I personally don’t believe in that goal. There are too many things that can happen along the way, and we respect our opponents.
“Thus, we rolled up our sleeves a little tighter and higher and put the work in that we needed to.”