SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Colerain football coach Tom Bolden paused for a long moment when asked about his favorite game against St. Xavier. It's a great question to consider as the teams prepare for another match-up.
The 2017 regional final is certainly a candidate for the Cardinals, even if it's the most recent. That one gave Colerain a trip to the state Final Four and redeemed a rainy regular-season loss at home to the Bombers.
"I think that's the great thing about this game," Bolden finally said. "There are so many memories from these matchups. I think that's what makes it cool."
St. X coach Steve Specht agreed.
"I'd have a hard time pointing to just one game or one memory because of all the great teams and great kids that have played in the games," Specht said. "It would be an injustice to any of them to single one thing out."
The memories and life lessons of high school sports are what it's all about. St. Xavier Stadium will be packed close to its 6,500-seat capacity Friday night. The game is one of the top 10 nationally this week to watch, according to MaxPreps.
"It's always neat going over there to play," Bolden said. "Of all the visiting venues that we go to play, this is probably my favorite one to go to. I think an opposing coach standing there and looking over at that sideline and looking over at the beautiful stands and seeing all those fans and the student section -- I think it's really cool competing against that."
As the Bombers and Cardinals prepare for the highly anticipated matchup, let's take a look at nine storylines about this rivalry.
Week 1 shutouts
Both teams had strong starts to the season last week. Colerain defeated visiting La Salle 23-0 Aug. 24 while St. X defeated Lakota West 34-0 at Paul Brown Stadium.
St. X had 305 yards of offense and led the Firebirds 20-0 after the first quarter, and senior linebacker Nathan Arthur had a team-high seven tackles including a half-sack.
Colerain led La Salle 23-0 by halftime, and the Cardinals limited La Salle to 111 yards total. Senior linebacker Luke Bolden, Tom's son and a Miami University commit, led with seven tackles.
This week will be the first time since 2015 both teams are 1-0 entering the Week 2 game.
"We may play teams this year as fast as Colerain, but no one will be faster," Specht said. "Discipline in our option responsibilities is a big key. Other than that, it always seems to come down to basic fundamentals: Blocking and tackling, turnovers, field position."
Colerain senior Deante Smith-Moore earned Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown MVP honors for his performance against La Salle last week, when he rushed 24 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. He's seen varsity action since he was a freshman in 2015.
Junior Wyatt Hudepohl was 12 of 18 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown for St. X last week. Hudepohl also saw limited time at quarterback as a sophomore in 2017 behind starter Chase Wolf (Wisconsin).
Each team is known for its defense, and this season is no different. Colerain has senior linebacker Luke Bolden alongside senior linebacker Eric Phillips (UC commit) and senior linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who also plays running back. Senior defensive back Syncere Jones may be the best all-around athlete on the team.
In addition to Arthur, senior defensive ends William MacDonald (five tackles) and Thomas Kiessling (five tackles) and senior linebacker Barry Rutherford (three tackles, one sack) made an impact for the Bombers last week.
Who will step up on this significant stage? Last season, it was Wolf and senior linebacker Will Childs along with Colerain's JJ Davis and Pace. Someone will certainly emerge to make a big play or cause a turnover that could impact the momentum of the game late in the second half. Look for Jones, St. Xavier's Jared Kreimer or possibly special teams to play that role.
"There is nothing finer than Southwest Ohio football," Colerain coach Tom Bolden said earlier this month. "I get it – Texas, California and Florida and all that kind of stuff, but there is nothing finer than Southwest Ohio football."
Colerain was ranked No. 5 nationally while St. X was No. 8 based upon games since 2003, according to MaxPreps partner Ned Freeman at CalPreps.com.
"The one part of the study that brings a smile to my face is the record against top 1,000 teams," Specht said in the preseason. "St. Xavier High School has played in 172 games against the top 1000 teams in the country since 2003. 'Striving for the Magis' is about pushing your limits against the best the world has to offer. Sometimes your best may not win, but you get better from the experience."
Respect between programs
Specht and Tom Bolden are good friends off the field. They've coached together in USA Football and enjoy competing during the high school season. Specht is 130-46 in his 15th season at his alma mater. Bolden is 119-20 in his 12th season at his alma mater.
"One of the things we try to teach is healthy competition," Specht said. "Competing against the best brings out the best in you. Regardless of the outcome, every Colerain-St. Xavier matchup finds both teams better in so many ways. This Week 2 game has always enabled both teams to see where they are and what they need to improve on as the season progresses."
Greater Cincinnati's preeminent high school football rivalry was renewed for two more years in March, when the schools announced St. Xavier and Colerain will continue to play in Week 2 of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Friday night marks the final game in the current contract.
"It's part of the high school fabric in Cincinnati," Specht said. "It's part of the football culture. I appreciate Tommy and Colerain High School and their approach to be the best they can by playing anyone, anytime. It speaks volumes about them and their kids."
St. X leads the all-time series, 22-14, but the teams split the two games last season. The Bombers defeated host Colerain 20-17 in overtime during a rain storm Sept. 1, 2017.
Colerain came back to defeat St. Xavier 21-14 Nov. 18 in the Division I regional final at Mason.
"Regardless of how it ends up Friday night, it's not going to be the end of the season for either team," Bolden said. "We will have a good idea of where we're at after Friday night."
Colerain is ranked No. 18 nationally by the MaxPreps Freeman Computer Football Rankings. The Freeman Rankings are the computer points rankings. St. Xavier is ranked No. 23 nationally. St. X is No. 6 in the USA Today Midwest Rankings. Colerain is No. 7 in the regional rankings.
St. X has nine consecutive postseason appearances -- the longest active streak among area large schools. Colerain has eight consecutive appearances, and the two schools have met in the playoffs four consecutive seasons.
St. Xavier added Zak Wyche to its varsity football coaching staff this season. Wyche, a 1989 Wyoming graduate, is the son of former Cincinnati Bengals coach Sam Wyche. He coaches defense for the Bombers, and his son, Jack, is a freshman quarterback on the JV team. Another son, Sam Wyche, is a former linebacker at Moeller.
Former Colerain quarterback Tyler Williams is in his second season as the St. X running backs coach. The 2011 Colerain graduate is very familiar with the Cardinals' triple-option offense and has replicated it in the past as a scout-team quarterback. His father, Terrell Williams, is the St. Xavier strength and conditioning coach.