Times Sports Editor
The anticipation for tonight's match-up between Terre Haute North and host Northview is reaching a fever pitch as the Knights look to duplicate their 2006 win, a 28-23 victory. While the teams' geographic proximity had made them at least casual rivals last decade, the product on the field the last three seasons has heightened the true rivalry.
The average margin of victory the past three games has been fewer than six points.
Last year's defeat, in which Terre Haute North scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 3:43, including an 82-yard punt return by Daniel Gabbard with 1:34 left, to snatch away the win.
Northview coach George Gettle spoke about the budding rivalry between the Clay and Vigo County schools during practice on Thursday.
"Last year we felt like we played with (the Patriots) for about 58-and-a-half minutes and we had the lead throughout most of the game and we just let it slip away in the end," Gettle said. "Our kids' confidence is up. Over the last three or four years we've had some really tight games with Terre Haute North and we won a couple of years ago. It's not longer a situation where it's a 'their a big school, we're a small school.' Now it's more of a situation that, look, we can play with anyone on our schedule and North just happens to be the team up this week."
One new factor in this year's edition will be senior quarterback, Chris O'Leary, who missed last year's game against the Knights. His athleticism is the driving force behind the Patriot's offense and he's helped them to 32 and 30 points in a 2-0 start.
Overall, O'Leary has combined for nearly 700 yards with his arm and his feet in just two games.
(O'Leary) is a great athlete and he's got a very good command of their offense. They run spread/option so the quarterback is not only a passer, but he's a runner," Gettle said. "He's had two outstanding ball games so far throwing and running. He's a big part of their offense and probably a team leader I would imagine."
In the opening win against Castle, O'Leary completed 19-of-29 passes for 333 yards with explosive running back Daniel Gabbard hauling in eight passes for 103 yards, Tyler King had four catches for 91 yards. Meanwhile, O'Leary also ran for 83 yards.
"He just presents all sorts of challenges on the outside," Gettle said of O'Leary. "He's very elusive, gets outside on the option and makes good reads and he's had some success throwing the ball. Offensively they are very explosive, they've got good receivers, good running backs and good slot receivers."
The Knights are familiar with the offensive system the Patriots run as Northview has a similar spread/option style led by junior quarterback Trent Lancaster, who has helped his team ring up more than 40 points per game in a 2-0 start to the season.
Lancaster has been responsible for 178 yards rushing and 261 yards passing and six scores.
On the ground, Damon Hyatt has gained 114 combined yards in two games and Drake Stevenson averaged five yards apiece on nine carries at Lucas Oil Field against Edgewood.
Opening up holes for the offense and clogging them up on defense will be pivotal for each school's linemen and while North is by far the bigger school, Gettle feels his squad can mix it up with the best in the trenches.
"Up front we match up fairly well. Honestly I can't say man-to-man, but I can say we match up fairly well on the offensive and defensive lines," Gettle commented. "This isn't a typical line team from Terre Haute North they aren't quite as big as they have been in the past, but they definitely have kids who can play up front. It'll be challenging in the trenches, but that's where it begins and ends so we're expecting both our offensive and defensive lines to really pull their weight (tonight) and to lead us to victory."
Defensively the Knights will have their hands full with a talented group of North athletes and keeping the Patriot offense off the field as much as possible will be a key. Limiting extended drives and keeping the Knights' defense fresh could be the pivotal factor in a win or loss tonight.
"I think the key to this game is getting off the field on third down. With their explosive offense if we can get them in second and third (down) and long and get them off the field that will be key for us," Gettle agreed. "I thought (Terre Haute) South did a good job of controlling the ball. So the longer our offense can stay on the field and move the ball, than it's less time that their offense is on the field."
The Knights will be without the services of junior playmaker Hunter Robertson due to a knee injury, but Gettle was quick to note that his team is ready to go tonight.
"The kids have been excited since Monday and they are ready to go and obviously we're always ready to go against Terre Haute North."
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. in the season's home opener for the Knights.