At the beginning of the high school football season, York High and Spring Grove were two unlikely candidates to play in a crucial game.
The Bearcats were coming off a 2-8 season, and the Rockets won just one game in 2011.
Who would have thought those teams would clash in Week 8 with undisputed possession of first place in York-Adams Division I on the line.
That's what will be at stake, though, when York High (3-4, 2-0) and Spring Grove (5-2, 2-0) meet at 7 p.m. Friday at the Rockets' Papermakers' Stadium.
"It's awesome that the two cellar-dwellers last year are playing in the big game," said Spring Grove head coach Russ Stoner, who's in his second year. "It's a great feeling and a real sense of accomplishment to be preparing for a game like this."
Stoner's counterpart, York High head coach Shawn Heinold, and his players, are experiencing the same feeling.
"Our kids stepped up to the challenge this year," Heinold said on Wednesday afternoon before practice. "The non-league part of our schedule was difficult for us with a young crew. (York High opened the season with losses to Coatesville, Lancaster McCaskey and Harrisburg). Plus, we didn't have our present quarterback playing."
James Way took over at quarterback for the Bearcats in the third game of the season when the starter, Tavon Parker, left the team to focus on basketball.
"Their quarterback has a huge upside," Stoner said. "He can throw it well, and he can run it. The key things for us are we have to stop their big plays, and we have to control the football."
The Bearcats definitely count on Way (413 passing yards and 291 rushing yards), but they also look to Kelvin Nieves for rushing yards and leadership. Nieves has carried the ball 105 times for 731 yards (7.0 average).
Nieves rallied the team last week when it trailed Dallastown, 16-0 at halftime. York High ended up winning the game, 29-22.
"I came in (to the locker room) and said, 'why do you all have your heads down,'" Nieves said. "I said, 'keep your heads up, we have to get back in this game.' I know Spring Grove has a really good team, but we have to take the momentum we built up last week to this Friday's game."
Nieves can't wait for the showdown.
"This is what I've been dreaming of ever since I was little, playing for a division championship," he said.
The winner won't win the title on Friday, but it will put itself in position to eventually grab it.
From the bottom to the top: that would be quite a leap.
"Our kids bought into the fact that the start of league play is a new season," Heinold said. "Our first goal is to win the league title."
Stoner's players were also all-in on the plan to turn things around this year.
"These kids have worked their tails off," the Rockets' coach said. "We're getting everybody's best effort every week."
Jeff Delaughter is the Spring Grove's rushing leader with 763 yards, and Matt Runge (561 passing yards, 521 rushing yards) directs the offense.
"Jeff gets stronger as the game goes on, and Matt has developed into a fine field general," Stoner said. "Plus there's also Tim Nee and Logan Hagerman. One or both of those kids have had a huge play in almost every game."
Stoner's team is a relatively young, one with 22 juniors on the roster, but for he and the players, the future is now.
Ditto Heinold's Bearcats, who have received key contributions from underclassmen this season.
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin firstname.lastname@example.org.