YORKVILLE - Buckeye Local and Harrison Central are embarking on their final game of the 2011 season Friday night.
Regardless that the teams aren't heading to the playoffs, there's plenty at stake for the Panthers and Huskies, who will clash at World War II Memorial Stadium with the winner staking a claim to the VALES Trophy, which is new to the rivalry for this season.
The Panthers come into the game with a deceiving 5-4 record. They've dropped two games by one point and their third loss was by four. They were dealt a decisive, 47-6, setback last week at Indian Creek.
''The season definitely goes pretty quick,'' Panthers coach Anthony Barsch said. ''Creek hit a couple of big plays on us and the score spoke for itself, so now our focus is on Harrison Central.''
For Justin Kropka and the Huskies, the season has seen its fair share of ups and downs both on and off the field. Despite dealing with numerous unforseen circumstances, the Huskies have battled their way to a 4-5 record.
Buckeye Local expects to have talented senior tailback Josten Dear back in the lineup this week. He missed the game at Creek because of a shoulder problem. For the season, Dear has passed the 1,000-yard mark on the ground.
''We're hoping to have (Josten),'' Barsch said. ''We'll have to wait and see because he still has to get checked out, but he feels good. So hopefully, he's good to go.''
If Dear can't go, the Panthers backfield still has plenty of firepower with the likes of Jordan Piergallini (79-479-4td) and Austin Marshall (59-306-4td).Quarterback A.J. Barsch has been a steady game manager for the Panthers. He's passed for 727 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His top targets are Justin Isinghood (13-371-5td), Piergallini and Shane Duncan (10-194-1td).
''You talk about a team a couple of plays away, well Buckeye Local is a couple of plays away from having not lost a game,'' Kropka said. ''I look at them on film and I see one heckuva football team. We felt that Buckeye Local would be one of the best teams on our schedule, and I think they've proven that.''
The Huskies feature the area's top rusher in junior tailback Maurtice Hython, who is coming off a record-setting performance last week against Union Local. Hython, who ran for 348 yards and three touchdowns last week, has amassed 1,402 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
''Harrison is a good football team, which has had some tough breaks this season much like we have,'' Barsch said. ''Hython is a very capable running back, and their quarterback is back and throwing the ball quite well. It's just another week in the Buckeye 8, and we'll have our work cut out for us.''
Harrison Central has turned the reigns of its offense over to junior Rasheen Mitchell, who missed the first six games of the season after being injured in a scrimmage. Since his return, he's thrown for 550 yards and four touchdowns.
In the passing game, the Huskies have spread the wealth. Chris Hyde (19-409-td), Austin Schurr (16-355-2td), Hython (11-243-2td) and Nick Pelegreen are all capable pass catchers.
''We've got four quarters left to play, and I know these kids will play them with everything they've got,'' Kropka said. ''Anytime it's your last game, it's important. If you need to get excited for the last football game of your career, you probably shouldn't have been playing the sport to begin with.''