BEAVER FALLS, Pa. - The battle for league supremacy takes on a different tone as the high school football season begins to wind down, and the landscape of the sport in Eastern Ohio allows for unique rivalries.
Though Southern Local and Western Reserve are separated by a little more than 30 miles, the distance does not dilute the importance, nor the intensity of the match-up.
Both teams come into Friday's contest with identical 5-2 records. The only difference is that one of the Indians' losses came at the hands of a league opponent, while the Blue Devils have remained perfect in Tier 2 of the Inter-Tri County League.
Western Reserve got off to a rocky start at 0-2, but has rebounded with five straight victories including four in league play.
Southern Local got out of the gate with two big wins before a hiccup against Crestview in week three. The Indians regrouped to down McDonald the following week but suffered another setback when they fell to Columbiana in week six. The Clippers currently sit atop the league standings with Western Reserve at 4-0.
For the Indians, Friday night is a chance to draw even and pull into a tie for second place. Should the Indians invoke revenge from last year's 48-3 loss at the hands of the Blue Devils, they will become Western Reserve's biggest supporters when they square off against Columbiana in the final week of the season.
The two schools have met each year for the past six seasons with Western Reserve taking all six of those bouts. One might think the one-sided affair would hardly be called a rivalry, but don't say that to former combatants who get to rekindle that flame every afternoon on the practice field.
Thomas Benyo and Kyle Exline each graduated last year from Western Reserve and Southern Local respectively. The two have gone on to continue their educations, as well as their playing careers at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa.
The idea was instilled in each athlete during the recruiting process. With schools from the Presidents Athletic Conference calling, the two knew that they wanted to choose a school where they could become teammates.
"We had talked about it and I remember it was basketball season," Benyo said. "He actually decided on Geneva first, and I was torn between Geneva and Waynesburg."
Exline watched Western Reserves state semifinal appearance from a year ago with admiration.
"Reserve is just a team you have to admire. They had great offenses and defenses," Exline said. "So being a young team like Southern, I always wanted to play with those guys. In the recruiting process and I tried to find out where some of them were going."
While at Western Reserve, Benyo played linebacker on defense while Exline lined up at tight end on offense.
"That was my job actually, was to line up and jam him at the line," Benyo said. "Then when I was on offense I had to block him. We both basically played the same positions."
The pair got their first taste of being teammates with one-another during the Penn-Ohio Stateline Classic. But being football players, the two were still eager to don the pads and line up against each-other.
"They told us the first day that we were here that we could do the Oklahoma drill against eachother at mid-field," Benyo said." But we've yet to get to do that."
The two often rehash their past duels on film in their dorm room. They get extra input from their fellow teammates at Geneva on just who exactly won those battles on the field.
"I heard him talk about the screen he went a little low on me," Exline said. "A couple teammates watched that film. But he went for my ankles like anyone should when the big guy is coming at you."
Like any gritty rivalry, and friendship, it comes with it's share of trash-talking and reminders.
"I think it was pretty evenly matched if you watch the film," Benyo said. "We're like the same type of player to be honest with you. I got him a few times, he got me a few times. But when he starts to talk I just remind him of the score."
Though the competition on the field is still as intense as in high school, the two roommates also engage in spirited virtual battles.
"We have a rivalry going on in NCAA13," Exline said. "I think it's about even right now. Normally he steals the Buckeyes from me. So I usually try to come with some SEC speed, or sometimes Clemson."
Benyo and Exline fully intend to take in this years edition of Western Reserve and Southern Local Friday night in Berlin Center. A perfect time for more reminiscing, and also to pit future battles on the gridiron in Geneva.
"We get along really well," Benyo said. "We have very similar personalities and it works out well."
"It definitely adds to the college experience," Exline said. "It's nice to almost have a brother now."