The crosstown football rivalry between Princeton Community and Gibson Southern takes on added importance this year, as both teams will enter the game 3-1 overall, and unbeaten in conference play. The two will renew the rivalry on Friday, in a game that features plenty of talent and storylines.
The Titans are coming off their first regular season loss since 2014. A talented, and state ranked Henderson County (Ky.) team beat Gibson Southern last week 23-0. The Tigers enter Friday's game on a two-game win streak, including a 14-6 victory over rival Mt. Carmel last Friday.
Both sides have excellent line play, and have enjoyed the fruits of the that labor for most of the season. Line play in rivalry games is often a good place to look in terms of finding an indication as to who will win, and according to both coaches, Friday will be no different.
"I think in all honesty that's (line play) a big part of it," Princeton coach Jared Maners said. "I don't know if it's a game that is going to be scored in the 40's. I think it's going to be a game that's in the 20's or high teens."
"I think line play will go a long way in deciding it. Whenever you get two good teams together, line play and turnovers go a long way in deciding it," Gibson Southern coach Nick Hart said.
As for the skill positions, both defenses will have a lot to key on. Princeton features a speed-power combination of Devonte Hardiman and Darrion Madison out of the backfield, with Gerit Bock at quarterback. Receivers Miles Bostick and Dominic Hardiman can strike for explosive plays as well.
Gibson Southern also spreads the ball around in an up-tempo offense. Quarterback Brady Allen feeds threats like Ben Butler, Dawson Witte, Andrew Smith and Seth DeLong, who are all capable of making big plays.
Perhaps the biggest storyline is whether or not Titans junior running back Mitchell Spindler will be healthy enough to suit up. Spindler has an ankle injury that held him out of last Friday's Henderson County contest. In the three games he has played, he leads the Titans with 446 yards on the ground, good enough for over 10 per carry.
Hart and the Titans are hoping he is good to go, as it would allow them to be more creative with their use of Butler, who has played slot the majority of the year. They also expect sophomore Owen Bryant back, to give them more depth at backfield.
"You know Mitch, we'll see. We hope to have him ready to go on Friday. It's a little too early to tell now. He's progressing well, our goal is to have him out there at least for some of the snaps on Friday," Hart said in a Tuesday afternoon interview.
Maners and his staff are preparing for a fully-healthy Titans bunch. They expect to see Spindler back at running back, and know they have to do a good job of corralling the Gibson Southern athletes in space.
"They've got a lot of good players. I think Spindler is really good. I think Witte is really good. We expect Spindler to play, so we're expecting number four (Butler) to be back in the slot," Maners said. "They throw a lot of screens. That's another area we have to really focus on is make sure we break down in the open field. If we can't make a clean tackle on a solo, we have to wrap up and make sure we hang on because help's coming."
As for Princeton's offense, the Titans are preparing for a solid rushing attack. They also are aware of potential threats on the outside, as the Tigers have found success using the run to setup potential big plays downfield.
"I do think they run the football really well. They're really sound of everything they do. They do a really good job. They have some dynamic guys on the outside that can hurt, whenever they decide to take some shots," Hart said.
Typically, the Tigers have gone with the approach of forcing other teams to stack the box and stop them from running between the tackles. Given how good the Titans are with their front-seven on defense, Maners expects to have to get a little more creative in figuring out a way to score.
"It's one of those weeks, where they're probably the best d-line and linebacking core that we've seen. It's not going to be one of those nights where we can hit it up in the tackles 40 times and expect to go beat them," Maners said.
"Early on, we're still have to try and establish the run and get something going. It just equals out everything we do. They are extrememly well-coached up front."
As with most rivalry games, turnovers and big plays could ultimately be the biggest factor in deciding a victor come Friday. Both coaches see it this way, and both teams feel they can make those plays to win.
"Its going to be pick your poison in a lot of areas. I think they're going to have to take something away, we're going to have to take something away. Whoever makes the most plays is probably going to win," Maners said.
"I think turnovers, big plays. Anytime you get in a big game those are two things that will decide it. I expect that to be a big indicator come Friday night," Hart said.
Kickoff between Gibson Southern and Princeton is set for Friday night at 7 p.m. from Tiger Stadium.