The Mt. Carmel-Princeton rivalry has been one-sided historically. There isn't a doubt about that. However, the game has gone Princeton's way two of the past three years, including a 30-27 victory at Tiger Stadium last year. The two sides will meet again for the 2018 edition Friday night.
The Tigers (2-1) are coming off a Big Eight victory over Washington, while the Golden Aces (1-1) lost their Big Eight opener to Mt. Vernon last Friday. Both teams are looking up at Boonville in the Big Eight conference standings, as the Pioneers have won their first three games, all conference games, to open the year.
This makes Friday night's affair a huge game, outside of the normal rivalry intensity.
"It is a rivalry game, we've only beaten them like twice in 37 years. Anytime you can go over there and get a win, that's a tough venue, the whole town shuts down," Princeton Community head coach Jared Maners said.
The Snake Pit, home of the Golden Aces, indeed provides a threatening environment for any opponent. The Tigers did win their only road game thus far, when they spoiled Joey Paridean's Evansville North debut in another hostile environment.
In terms of the matchup between the Mt. Carmel defense and the Princeton offense, the focus will be on how successful the Tigers are on the ground. Senior Devonte Hardiman and junior Darrion Madison have provided a solid duo for the Tigers. The two have combined to rush for 466 yards through three games.
"Right now, defense has been our strength," Mt. Carmel head coach Michael Brewer said. "Our defense has really helped us and kept us close in ball games. They have kind of been a strong-point for us."
The Princeton passing attack found some consistency last week, in particular the connection between junior quarterback Gerit Bock and sophomore receiver Dominic Hardiman. The pair hooked up for two touchdowns through the air against Washington.
"I think that (connection) is just going to keep coming. You got to have game experience with those types of plays to be comfortable with them," Maners said. "So for him and us, it's a huge confidence booster. I mean we think he can definitely do that, especially down the road."
The Aces on offense are led by sophomore quarterback Kaleb Applebey, who possesses prototypical size at 6'6, 215 for that position. They will also feature senior receiver Austin Rager and junior running back Aden Gill as their marquee playmakers. Mt. Carmel has scored 33 points through two games, a number Brewer hopes increases with more consistency and execution.
"You know, offensively we've just not executed very well. We got to start clicking. Really, it just comes down to executing plays. Nothing fancy, nothing cute, just doing the basics offensively and executing those plays," Brewer said.
Maners still sees threats in the Golden Aces offense, starting with Applebey.
"Quarterback is a big kid. If you give him time, he's pretty accurate. He's got a big arm, he can sling it a little bit," Maners said. "Number 11 Rager is a really nice player for them, he's a three-year starter for them. He's probably their go-to guy. They do a lot of stuff to try to get him the football and get him going."
Maners compared the 6'3, 195 pound Rager to Evansville North's Dylan McKinney, another playmaker who moves around positionally in creative ways, although listed at receiver. The Golden Aces will use the popular run-pass option, or RPO, to fool defenses and make them pick their poison.
"They do a lot of really good run-pass options. It's one of those things we've been really working with our outside (line) backers and our DB's to really work on their read steps and shuffle steps and not over-pursue things," Maners said.
Brewer is hoping that the Snake Pit is packed, and also hoping last season's loss to the Tigers remains fresh in the minds of his players.
"I hope that (last year's loss) is something they think about, it's kind of left a sour taste in their mouth and they can use that as motivation if need be. More than anything we need to play fundamental, good football and execute," Brewer said. "Anytime we get to play at home we get pretty excited about that. Hopefully it's a good crowd, good showing."
Kickoff from the Snake Pit will be Friday at 7 p.m.