Without a doubt, Brooke and Wheeling Park have travelled in some fast company during the first four weeks of the 2012 season.
That obviously has a lot to do with the Bruins' 0-4 record, while Patriots are 2-2 heading into the renewal of their longtime rivalry Friday night at Brooke Memorial Stadium in Wellsburg.
Except for the hard-luck, 35-34 opening-game loss to Parkersburg (2-2), Brooke has fallen to three straight still undefeated rivals, St. Clairsville, University and Steubenville. Park also was toppled by the Red Devils and the Hawks, while its two victories came against West Virginia Class AA power Bridgeport and Brashear out of the Pittsburgh City League.
''We are 2-2 but it is not the end of the world,'' Patriots coach Chris Daugherty said. ''We had opportunites in both our losses to hang in there and possibly win those games if some things had gone our way.''
The Patriots led St. Clairsville at halftime and trailed by seven points midway through the third quarter. Against University, a long kickoff return that might have tied the score in second quarter was erased by a penalty.
''I think we are still work in progress,'' Daugherty said. ''No doubt, we have to go out and execute better than what we have done so far. University is undefeated for a reason and last week they beat us at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.''
Brooke's first-year coach Sean Blumette actually came away from the 34-13 loss to Big Red feeling encouraged.
''The kids' focus and intensity was there last week,'' he said. ''Regardless of the score, Steubenville knew it had played a football game. Outside of us giving up some big plays, I thought we did very well. Hopefully we can build on that as we go through the rest of the season.''
Both coaches are anticipating a typical Wheeling Park-Brooke backyard battle similar to last year when Bryce Ingram sparked the Patriots into a comfortable early lead only to see Alec Buchmelter's passing arm nearly bring the Bruins all the way back in a 26-20 setback. The Bruins were knocking on the door for a possible game-winning TD and extra point before being turned away.
''We've been dealing with Buchmelter for three years,'' Daugherty reminded. ''He does everything well. It's up to our defense to make some stops and keep him off the field. Our offense also needs to help out by putting some long drives together that will limit Brooke's possessions.''
Early in the season Buchmelter was just not comfortable in the pocket and after the University game, the Bruins staff made some changes with their pass protection that seemed to help.
''I thought he did an awesome job last week when he threw for over 200 yards against Big Red,'' Blumette said. ''He stayed in the pocket, stepped up and knew where his guys were going to be when he threw the football.''
Blumette didn't get to see Ingram's big game in which he found the end zone three times against the Bruins. But he is well aware of Ingram's speed and quickness, having seen Park's stellar junior running back on film and in person. So far this season Ingram has rushed for 426 yards and six touchdowns.
''Ingram is an outstanding back and he can break one at any time,'' Blumette said. ''But he is not Park's only weapon. The system they run is giving us a little extra to prepare for this week. While they like to spread you out, it's no secret that they want to run the football. They also have enough offensive weapons that you can't focus on stopping one guy.''
Daugherty is preparing the Patriots to face a stern challenge from a Brooke team that sees this game as an opportunity to gain its first victory.
''They are hungry for a win. It's Homecoming up there and rivalry between the two schools is still as good as it has ever been,'' he stressed.
The Park coach reminded that this is a big game for the Patriots if they plan on making a strong playoff run.
''We can't afford to lose any game but this one is very important. We have to make sure that we continue to grow and get better every week,'' he said.