MOUNT CARMEL -- Friday's matchup against Princeton may prove to be the last time the Aces and Tigers face off in what has become a storied rivalry between two schools separated by a river, a state border and just a 20 minute drive.
With its roots originating back in 1920, the two teams are knotted at an even 29-29 record in the rivalry, giving whoever claims this matchup the tiebreaker as best.
Mount Carmel Head Football Coach Michael Brewer, who's been a part of such games against the Tigers as a player and now as a head coach, doesn't want the rivalry to end, but said finding room on the schedule following the IHSA football district play mandation is complex.
"I think this a game we would like to keep on our schedule and for the forseeable future it's not looking like it's going to fit," Brewer said. "Just the travel distance, the similarities in size, it just makes a lot of sense. I think both schools would like to keep this game going, but right now I don't know if it fits schedules. Hopefully sometime down the road we can make that happen [and continue it]."
Princeton's dominated the rivalry as of late, winning three of the last four matchups in the rivalry, including a 14-6 victory in Mount Carmel last season -- a game in which both teams fought through a torrential downpour, limiting both teams to a ground game focus based on the conditions.
For last year's Aces, such conditions hampered them immensely. Their run game had troubles getting going against opposing teams' fronts, including the Tigers holding the Aces to just 2.7 yards per rush in last season's matchup.
This year, it appears to be vastly different, at least on paper.
Through two games the Aces run game looks light years improved in contrast to last season, despite a pair of injuries to offensive linemen Elijah Laws and Luke Laws, who will both miss the remainder of the season.
Sophomore running back Zeke Hadra has feasted on Harrisburg and Mount Vernon's defense, boasting 390 rushing yards, 79 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns, leading the Aces in each aforementioned categories.
With such success on the ground, it serves as no surprise that Brewer views the run game as a major key to the outcome of the game. Brewer would also like to see his team remedy their penalty situation they encountered last game, when they were flagged nine times for 68 yards.
"It's still the same issues on offense; we have to run the ball, we have to be efficient running the ball and not get backed up," Brewer said. "We have to eliminate those penalties that we had this week. Those are really the two things on offense. Continue to improve our offensive line play, be consistent and do away with the penalties."
Defensively the Aces have been really solid in stopping the run, which will be another key, but the Tigers' offense is well-balanced, with senior Gerit Bock anchoring the pass game and senior Braden Matthews and junior Dominic Hardiman as Bock's go-to receivers.
Bock's tossed for 635 yards through three games with a 53 percent efficiency on his passes, including two touchdowns and a pair of picks. Matthews and Hardiman have been responsible for the bulk of the Tigers' receptions, accounting for 88 percent of the team's receptions. Matthews had 335 receiving yards and a pair of scores while Hardiman has 246 yards through the air.
"They're big up front, they have some weapons outside, they have the ability to run the ball, they're a very balanced team so they pose a threat that way," Brewer spoke of the Tigers. "I think they'll be a little tougher defensively for us to go up against since they are a little more balanced. I think their run game will prove to be a little more difficult to defend. Their size poses a problem I think and so we have to make sure we account for their skill kids too. We'll have our hands full, we need to play a good game and make sure throughout this week we continue to get better each and every day."
Princeton Head Football Coach Jared Maners reported the Tigers will be without senior running back and defensive back Darrion Madison, who suffered a foot sprain in their week two matchup.
Princeton (1-2) enters the game having just snapped an eight-game losing streak which dated back to last season with their 24-7 victory over Washington last Friday. The Tigers are 1-2, with losses to Terre Haute North Vigo 38-0, and Evansville North 49-7.
The Aces (2-0) on the other hand enter with tremendous confidence, with last week's 30-24 victory over Mount Vernon (Ind.) reassuring his team heading forward. Mount Carmel entered the Mount Vernon game after a disastrous week one left the team utterly shocked, with the Laws brothers suffering season-ending injuries. How they recovered was truly impressive.
"I think the kids after the Harrisburg game were pretty bummed, they lost a couple of kids to injuries that probably won't make it back this year," Brewer said. "They're friends, kids who they've seen work hard, they're leaders. To some degree they were a little bummed in thinking, how's this going to affect our season? For a lot of reasons I think it was a very important game. It was a good team. I thought it was really important for us to get that win and talking playoff participation and all of that, for a lot of reasons it was an important win."
Despite having suffered another injury to his knee in last week's victory, Brewer expects junior quarterback Kaleb Applebey to be ready to play in Friday's game, with no physical limitations for his quarterback. Applebey struggled to find a rhythm through the air in his opener against the Wildcats, tossing just 3 of 8 passes for 22 yards, but will likely continue to regain his confidence as he continues to get live-game reps.
To try and get Applebey in a rhythm, expect the Aces to try some dink and dunk passes, screen type plays to playmakers such as junior Beau Stipp, or Hadra.
"I think he's going to be ok," Brewer spoke of Applebey. "I don't think this is anything that should linger, so I think he should be ok and good to go Friday."
Notably Friday will be Mount Carmel's first road game -- though it's not much of a road game as Brewer noted. "We have a lot of kids here with past experience, they've played a lot of varsity football, we should be ok there," Brewer noted. "Up front we have to keep getting better, but as far as not being at home, I think we'll be alright. It's a short trip anyway, not much of a road game. We should be ok there."
There is a chance for thunderstorms tomorrow, which could hamper the passing attack of the two teams for the second consecutive year.
If it's the last time these teams do face off, one can only hope for another classic. Since 2015 all but one game between the two rivals has been decided by eight points or less. If the Aces are to be successful, Hadra will have to shine for the third straight Friday night. For the Tigers to be successful, containing Hadra has to be the primary focus.
Kickoff for Friday night in Princeton is scheduled for 7 p.m. If you're unable to make the trip, follow the Mount Carmel Register's Facebook page for updates throughout the game. We'll be posting updates upon the conclusion of each quarter.