The attention of Class C-1, and likely many eyeballs across the state, will be fixed on Albion Friday night when No. 5 and unbeaten Scotus Central Catholic travels to face No. 3 and unbeaten Boone Central.
The Shamrocks haven't been perfect this late in a season since 1998. The Cardinals have a little more recent success in that regard, going 13-0 in the state title season of 2014.
The two have met 11 times in the past 16 seasons, but only one of those contests - a 27-23 Boone Central win in 2007 - has been close. The other 10 had an average margin of victory of nearly 23 points.
Scotus won last year, and has won three of the last four, but Boone Central has the lead since 2006 with a 7-4 record. The past two years are the latest the two teams have played in the schedule since 2008-09.
It's not a game that will have an effect on the district race, but could figure into postseason seeding. Boone Central leads the wildcard standings while Scotus is fourth. These two teams plus Ashland-Greenwood, Kearney Catholic and Chadron are the only remaining undefeated teams in Class C-1.
But how the postseason is eventually organized is the furthest thing from the minds of Scotus coach Tyler Linder, his staff and the boys on the roster. The Shamrocks are eager to test themselves against one of the best after three straight weeks of one-win or winless opponents.
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But the 'Rocks also aren't putting too much emphasis on the matchup overall, which Linder said might be the key to success.
"We're looking at it just like we'd approach any other game. It doesn't have any district title implications, but it has all the feel of a playoff game," Linder said. "You've got two good teams battling near the end of the regular season, it's going to be a chilly night, you're on the road in kind of a hostile environment, so it's really a measuring stick game to see where we're at. Are we pretenders or contenders?"
Boone Central is scoring nearly 35 points per game while utilizing several playmakers. Four players average better than 4 yards per carry, five different players have caught a touchdown pass and the combination of Braden Benes and Alex Christo have directed the Cardinals from the shotgun.
It's that embrace of playing as a spread team that Linder said has led to a successful Boone Central turnaround. For a few years, he said, it seemed the Cardinals were also inserting option and under-center plays, and Boone Central can still attack as a multi-layered offense, but this year 70 to 80% of the snaps are in the shotgun with four and five-wide sets.
Benes has completed 63% of his passes for 437 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground he has 427 yards, a 5.7 yards-per-carry average and eight scores. Christo has hit on 54% of his throws for 399 yards, four scores and no picks. His feet have gained 251 yards, a 4.6 average and three touchdowns.
"They've just gotten really adept at what they're doing, they're confident in their game plans and they find a switch," Linder said. "It seems most of the teams on their schedule have played them pretty close for about two quarters then they find their gear and they execute."
Defensively, Boone Central is allowing less than 16 points per game, plays a 3-4 with a two-safety look but typically walks one of those safeties down into box to give it a 4-4 appearance.
The Cardinals gave up 17 to Norfolk Catholic, 33 to Pierce, 13 to Wayne and none to Battle Creek.
"We've got to try and find ways to take advantage of numbers and force them to become predictable," Linder said. "There are certain formations and certain motions we feel can balance them a little bit, and that makes it a lot easier to predict and a lot easier to attack."
Scotus enters the contest following wins over Schuyler, North Bend and West Point-Beemer. The Shamrocks difficult part of the schedule was early when they faced Wahoo, Aquinas Catholic and went to Battle Creek.
Boone Central had a tough early test against C-2 No. 2 Norfolk Catholic and has spent the past three weeks against a daunting slate that included No. 4 Pierce, Battle Creek and Wayne.
Boone Central was 3-4 a year ago and made a series of mistakes in Columbus that allowed Scotus to come back from down 14-7 and pull away. A running into the punter penalty then three straight interceptions turned the game to 31-14 in Scotus' favor.
Boone Central was in the middle of its third straight losing season after not having finished under .500 since 2009.
"I think a lot of it is they've had good numbers out for the past several years. When you can do that, you start to build depth and you start to build confidence and camaraderie, and that's a recipe for success," Linder said. "The Cardinals and the Shamrocks, I think, are spitting images of each other. They won a title in 2014, we won a title in 2015, we've gone back-and-forth and we've had some tremendous battles amongst ourselves. We've had our shares of successes and failures, and we're both back to our winning ways. It'll be a great test for both teams and an awesome opportunity to play the game of football."