A rivalry is defined as competition between two equal entities trying to surpass each other.
That certainly rings true of tonights regular-season ending, conference-deciding football showdown between General Brown and Immaculate Heart Central.
And its not only because both the Lions and Cavaliers are 6-0 overall, 4-0 in Section 3 Class C North, and ranked among the elite top 20 Class C teams in the state. Or that Time Warner Cable Sports Channel decided to televise the game at IHC live. Or that the game drew nearly 44 percent of the votes on Syracuse.com as its Game of the Week.
Thats only part of the scenario.
The Lions and Cavaliers are long-time combatants, dating back to when Frontier League football was in its infancy in the mid- to late-1960s. An era when veteran General Brown head coach Steve Fisher was just beginning his stellar career, butting heads with his old Brockport State pal, then IHC head man Tom LaDuke.
What I remember most about those early years between us and IHC is that they beat our butts for years, Fisher said this week. To me, IHC is still one of our main rivals because their program is always good, and they always play us tough.
Many of todays players on both teams arent totally aware of what the General Brown-IHC rivalry means to both schools and fan bases.
General Brown senior Matt Haley said, The closer this game got, the more we found out just how much it means. Were pretty close to each other, and a lot of players on both teams know each other from camps and playing other sports. I think its great that we get to end the season against them.
IHC junior quarterback Cole Carpenter said there is one simple reason why General Brown continues to be one of the Cavaliers biggest rivals. Its because they have a great program year in and year out, and they kind of set the standard of where we want our program to be, Carpenter said. Our games with them have pretty much decided our conference over the last several years, so its big without being a rivalry game. But because it is, its extra special.
Current IHC coach Paul Alteri was a part of the General Brown versus IHC game in the early 1980s when he was a standout two-way player for the Cavaliers. He remembered vividly his Cavaliers winning in 1981 and 1982.
It was always a tough, hard-nosed, hard-fought game, Alteri said. Back then, we played all of the big schools (Indian River, Carthage) in the Frontier League and they were all big rivalry games. But because weve continued to play General Brown over the years, this game has become really important to us as a team and as a program.
When Section 3 football moved from separate leagues, such as the Frontier and Onondaga leagues to state classification-based leagues in the late 1980s, the two teams didnt necessarily play each season because they were often in different conferences and/or classes. When IHC moved down to Class D due to declining enrollment, the General Brown-IHC game was not played every season.
But since IHC was kicked back up to Class C in 2010, they now play in the same conference and meet every season.
However, unlike the early years when IHC dominated, General Brown has been in control of the series the past decade. The Lions have won six straight, including a 26-0 victory last season. General Brown also won 22-12 in a sleet storm in 2010, and 6-2 in a driving rainstorm in 2011.
One thing you can count on when you play them is smash-mouth football, said Carpenter, whose strong right arm will be a key in tonights outcome. Hopefully, we can match them in that area and finally get a win.
Fisher said IHCs offense is the best weve seen this year. They have great skill kids, all sorts of speed, and their quarterback is fabulous. Were going to have to be at our best to beat them.
Alteri said the basics are key in big games like this. Offensive execution, fundamental tackling and blocking techniques are so important, Alteri said. Theres always a lot of emotion, so you have to kind of keep that under control as well.
Lowville coach Josh Coffman has seen both teams up close, losing 21-0 to IHC on Sept. 27 and 37-12 to General Brown last Friday night. Coffman said tonights battle is a clash of two very good teams who do things very differently.
General Brown is going to be more system-based on offense and defense, Coffman said. Their running game is a combination of veer option with its dives, bellies, and powers along with their middle and wide traps. Their passing game is primarily based on play-action off of the those running plays, although they do run some straight drop-back stuff.
On defense, General Brown runs its attacking 4-4 with ends playing more containment. They are usually going to run some sort of inside stunt about 70-80 percent of the plays. Basically, they dont try to fool you with anything. They out-execute you. It is more of Here is what we are going to do, try and beat us.
IHC is the opposite. They are more skill-based than system-based, Coffman added. There are some similarities from year to year and week to week, but there are also a lot of differences. In the two scouting films I watched of them and in our game against them, they were very different offensively and defensively. The only thing that stayed the same in all three of the games was they were going to get their athletes the ball in space on offense, and they were going to tackle and get off blocks really well on defense.