After finishing its pre-practice warm-ups on Wednesday, the Red Lion football team huddled together before going into individual drills.
Typically, the message during the huddle is simple and generic, but on this day, it had more meaning: "Beat Dallastown."
On the schedule, Week 10 is just the final game of the regular season for most area high school teams. But, for teams such as the Lions, Wildcats and several others in the York-Adams League, Week 10 signals rivalry week.
"We talk to the kids and we stress to them that this is just another week. This is something that we prepare for and another step to our ultimate goal," Red Lion coach Jesse Shay said. "But, all that being said, the kids know. The kids know how important this game is to the area. ... They get the significance of it."
In most cases, the first thing that is on the athletes' minds when they play in a rivalry game is the pride of winning. Local bragging rights are at stake, and neither side wants to be on the wrong end of those.
What makes a rivalry: Along with Red Lion vs. Dallastown, other rivalry games on the docket for Friday night include Biglerville at Bermudian Springs, South Western at Spring Grove, Central York at York High and, the oldest one in the area, Delone Catholic at Hanover.
Any number of factors can play into the making of a rivalry. For instance, in the case of the annual showdown between the Panthers and Bearcats, tradition comes into play. While the two teams are a combined 2-16 coming into this year's match-up, both possess a long history as two of the five winningest programs all-time in York County. For the Canners vs. Eagles, Mustangs vs. Rockets and Lions vs. Wildcats, proximity between the schools is the driving force behind the rivalries. In the case of the Squires vs. Nighthawks, history is all you need to know when those two neighboring schools take the same field together. That rivalry dates back to the 1930s.
Normally, these games are hard-fought and close. While Red Lion has lost the last four meetings against Dallastown, the games are typically decided by one play.
"Most of the games are hard-fought," Wildcats coach Kevin Myers said. "This is my 19th year coaching in (the rivalry) and probably 15 of them were decided by special teams plays. Rarely has there been one team dominating the other."
Added meaning: Both Myers and Shay echoed the same sentiment, that, while one game doesn't define their seasons, this game stands alone. In Myers' eyes, his Dallastown squad isn't 9-0 and from Shay's perspective, his Lions aren't 6-3. Rather, they're both 0-0, with Friday night's tilt all that matters for the week.
Of the five high-profile rivalries on the slate for this week, four of them add to their intrigue with division titles at stake. The winner of Biglerville and Bermudian will earn at least a share of the Division III title with Hanover — that is, if the Nighthawks can get past Delone. With a win against Spring Grove, South Western will keep alive its chance of sharing the Division I crown with Dallastown, while the Rockets need a win to potentially sneak into the District 3-AAA playoffs. Then there's the Wildcats, who, with a win, will claim the outright Division I crown for a second straight year and finish as the only undefeated team in the Y-A League. Meanwhile, Red Lion would like nothing more than to spoil both of those plans and improve its own playoff situation.
"We're not really looking for consolations anymore," Lions' senior running back Alex Keough said. "Our mind isn't really on the division anymore, it's focusing on the playoffs. And really, what this game is about is improving our seed for districts, and it will just be an added bonus then to spoil Dallastown's perfect season."
All season long, coaches tell their players that every game is just as important as any other game. They try to do the same for this week as well, but know full well the rivalry games a little extra special. They can see it in the effort of their players.
"While the coaches, we try to stress that it's normal preparation like any other game, the intensity that we see out of the kids picks up another notch for Wildcat Week," Shay said.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker