CINCINNATI -- The highly anticipated schedule for the 20th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown is set. Let the predictions begin.
The Greater Cincinnati area will again be treated to a smorgasbord of high school football starting in mid-August.
“It’s very cool,” said Tom Gamble, president of In-Game Sports and organizer of the event. “It’s been a lot of fun. “Being the 20th anniversary makes you revisit the previous 19 years, which we will continue to do.”
The Skyline Chili Crosstown presented by Mercy Health Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, Meijer and Dr Pepper is billed as the nation's largest high school football showcase.
The event kicks off Friday, Aug. 18 with two matchups including a marquee Southeastern Indiana game featuring East Central (11-3 in 2016) at Lawrenceburg (13-2) at 7 p.m.
Lawrenceburg was a 3A state runner-up in 2016 while East Central was a 4A state semifinalist. This is the first matchup between the programs since 2012, according to East Central coach Justin Roden.
“It’s a neighborhood and community rival,” Roden said. “To me, that’s what the Showdown is all about. We have kids that live in the same neighborhoods and even on the same streets.”
The teams started playing in 1974. The atmosphere in Dearborn County will be primed for this opener.
“The game will have a huge crowd and a playoff-style feel,” Roden said. “It’s a perfect way to kick off the 2017 season.”
There will also be a Northern Kentucky game Aug. 18 featuring Highlands (3-8 in 2016) at Cooper (7-5) at 7:30 p.m.
The Ohio portion of the schedule starts Wednesday, Aug. 23 when Hughes (2-8) plays at Deer Park (2-8) at 7 p.m. That may very well be the first Ohio high school football game of the season. (The Ohio High School Athletic Association permits games to start Monday, Aug. 21.)
The game was originally scheduled to be played at University of Cincinnati's Sheakley Athletics Center but was forced to move because UC is using the bubbled facility for its weight room during the renovation of Fifth Third Arena.
There are two games on Aug. 24 at 7 p.m., as Taft (8-3) plays at Mount Healthy (8-3) and Aiken (7-4), which advanced to the playoffs for the first time in school history in 2016, travels to Western Hills (1-9).
Nippert Stadium will host a doubleheader on Friday, Aug. 25 as the opener features Elder (6-5) plays Lakota West (2-8) at 6 p.m.
Elder, which will be the only school to play in all 20 Showdown events, features several talented returning players including senior quarterback Danny Nieman, senior offensive lineman Bryce Martin (Tennessee Tech commit) and junior defensive end Spencer Bono, who has scholarship offers that include UC and Iowa.
Lakota West boasts three of the most recruited players in Ohio including senior middle linebacker Xavier Peters, senior defensive tackle Tyler Bentley and junior defensive end Steven Faucheux -- all of whom have offers from Southeastern Conference schools like Alabama and Florida, Big Ten offers and several others including UC.
Colerain (11-1) plays La Salle (13-2) at 8:30 p.m. at Nippert. This is part of a one-year agreement the schools came to last fall in order to extend a home-and-home agreement from 2015 and ’16.
“It will be a great matchup,” La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said. “We look forward to playing Colerain. It’s a neighborhood rival.”
La Salle, the reigning three-time Division II state champions, is just the ninth Ohio school to win at least three consecutive state titles and the first locally since Moeller (1975-77).
La Salle features several key returning players including senior quarterback Griffin Merritt, senior tight end Josh Whyle, who is verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati, along with senior linebacker Zach Rumpke and junior linebackers Brody Ingle and Garrett Bledsoe.
Colerain has eight returning starters on offense including senior quarterback Gunnar Leyendecker and junior quarterback/athlete Deante Smith. Colerain also returns wide receiver Ja'von Hicks (UC commit) along with senior linebacker Daniel Bolden and junior linebacker Ivan Pace.
"It truly is an honor to be considered for the event," Colerain coach Tom Bolden said. "Unfortunately, with some schools they like to pick and choose who they like to play. I just tell Tom (Gamble), 'who is it that you want us to play?' Then we get after it."
Four games highlight the schedule Saturday, Aug. 26 at Nippert Stadium.
Lakota East (5-5) plays Walnut Hills (4-6) at 11 a.m., followed by Milford (2-8) versus Oak Hills (4-6) at 2 p.m.
Longtime area coach Tom Grippa will make his Milford coaching debut that day. Oak Hills features senior quarterback Jacob Woycke, who threw for 2,500 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.
Walnut Hills, which features several talented players including highly-recruited 2019 defensive tackle Jowon Briggs (offers from Alabama, UC, Ohio State, Michigan and others) is expected to name a new head coach Friday.
The night games include reigning Division I state champion St. Xavier (10-5) against Hinsdale (Ill.) Central (9-1) at 5 p.m.
St. X, which has the longest active streak of consecutive playoff appearances (eight) among Division I area teams, features several returning players from the state championship team including senior quarterback Chase Wolf (Wisconsin) and senior defensive end Blake Bacevich (UC).
St. X coach Steve Specht said the Showdown is an excellent barometer to start the season.
“It’s really cool,” Specht said. “I think a lot of things have spun off of this. I think he created something special. You see how it’s morphed over the years and grown. To be a part of it for as long as we have is really special. I think the kids look forward to it every year. One thing that it does is you know where you are real fast after that first game of the year. It’s just a neat way to start the year.”
Moeller (4-6) plays Hamilton (5-5) at 8 p.m. Aug. 26. The Crusaders feature several top returning players including senior tight end Brenden Bates (Kentucky) and senior defensive tackle Aeneas Hawkins, who is one of the most recruited players in the state's 2018 class. Junior offensive lineman Zach Carpenter has also garnered several significant scholarship offers this spring. Sophomore tight end Caden Clark, an Akron Archbishop Hoban transfer, was named to the MaxPreps Freshman All-American Team last fall.
Hamilton features senior offensive lineman Dillon Stone, a first-team all-GMC selection in 2016, and all-conference defensive lineman Jason Smith, who is a four-year starter.
"I feel we have a hungry team that is ready to breakthrough," Hamilton coach Chad Murphy said. "The off-season has been great."
There will also be Showdown games on the high school campuses including Centerville at Fairfield (at Fairfield Stadium) Aug. 25. The Indians feature senior defensive end Malik Vann (UC commit) and senior offensive lineman Jack Carman, who is ranked the nation's No. 4 overall player in the 2018 class by Rivals.com.
The Showdown also features Princeton at West Clermont in the first game for West Clermont. Princeton coach Mike Daniels, a former UC and Princeton standout, makes his debut as the Vikings head coach.
Advance tickets for the Showdown games at Nippert Stadium are $12 for adults and $10 for students. All tickets are $15 at the gate. The tickets are good for all games that day; there will be re-entry Saturday for the four games.
The ticket prices for the games at school venues will vary. Each school determines when those advance tickets will go on sale, according to Gamble.
More information can be found at 2017Showdown.com.
2017 Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown schedule
Friday, Aug. 18
Highlands (3-8 in 2016) at Cooper (7-5), 7:30 p.m.
East Central (11-3) at Lawrenceburg (13-2), 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 23
Hughes (2-8) at Deer Park (2-8), 7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 24
Taft (8-3) at Mount Healthy (8-3), 7 p.m.
Aiken (7-4) at Western Hills (1-9), 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 25
(At Nippert Stadium)
Elder (6-5) vs. Lakota West (2-8), 6 p.m.
Colerain (11-1) vs. La Salle (13-2), 8:30 p.m.
(At Fairfield Stadium)
Centerville (5-5) at Fairfield (7-4), 7 p.m.
Sycamore (8-5) at Loveland (4-6), 7 p.m.
Mason (7-5) at Springboro (7-4), 7 p.m.
(At West Clermont)
Princeton (6-4) at West Clermont (new school), 7:30 p.m.
(At Hamilton High School)
Badin (2-8) vs. Ross (2-8), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 26
(At Nippert Stadium)
Lakota East (5-5) vs. Walnut Hills (4-6), 11 a.m.
Milford (2-8) vs. Oak Hills (4-6), 2 p.m.
Hinsdale (Illinois) Central (9-1) vs. St. Xavier (10-5), 5 p.m.