One team was destined for stardom led by its highly touted running back, but its season did not derail after he was lost to a season-ending injury.
The other team, even with an unblemished 6-0 record, hasn't garnered the same amount of attention, rumbling under the radar behind a multi-dimensional attack.
It doesn't matter that they are both undefeated, it doesn't matter where they rank right now in the WPIAL standings, but what matters to Mount Pleasant coach Bo Ruffner is the end result of a hard-fought season.
"We don't worry about the rankings, the only one that matters is the one at the end of the season," Ruffner said.
Even with one conference game remaining for each team, the WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference title will be decided Friday night between the Mount Pleasant Vikings (6-0, 6-0) and the Washington Little Prexies (6-0, 6-0).
"The kids, the coaching staff, we know what's at stake," Ruffner said. "But we're going to approach it like any other game, try not to change what we do best and do the same thing we have been doing week to week. It's a testament to the hard work and the focus we have put in."
A formula that consists of only three ingredients is what Ruffner said has put his players in this position and helped them to establish their identity on both sides of the ball.
"One thing we always say is, if we can stop the run, win the turnover battle and have a physical running game, we feel confident about our chances in every game," Ruffner said. "That's the identity we have worked hard to establish. Our kids embrace it."
Defensively, Mount Pleasant is giving up only 10.8 points per game.
These Vikings have a doubled-edged attack with quarterback Ryan Gumbita and running back Tyler Mellors.
But Ruffner said it's more than those two who set the sails for the offense.
"We have four guys who carry the ball for this team," he said. "Our ability to run with them, sets up our play-action game or our regular dropback. We have diversity on offense no matter how defenses attack our game plan."
Mellors, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior, leads the team in rushing with 860 yards on 93 carries. The other backs, Ryan Ballew and Brett Fess, have combined for 687 yards and Gumbita, a 6-4, 210-pound senior, also chipped in almost 200 yards on the ground.
"It's tough to prepare for Mount Pleasant," Washington coach Mike Bosnic said. "They are a very good team, run a real nice wing-T and are really disciplined. Mellors is an exceptional player and their quarterback is a big, strong kid who can run."
Washington had an exceptional player of its own before he sustained a season-ending knee injury Sept. 13 against Charleroi Area. Through the first three games of the season, Shai McKenzie rushed for 650 yards with a staggering 18.1 yards per carry average with 11 touchdowns.
"You never replace a player like Shai, but our guys have responded, stepped up and become better leaders," Bosnic said.
No matter if it's a regular game, rivalry game or the battle for the conference title, it's unity in high school athletics when a player is lost to an injury.
"Shai was an outstanding running back," Ruffner said. "We felt bad and sorry he went down. It's a little disappointing to see that. I'm sure they miss him, but the coaching staff has done a great job keeping the team rolling,"
In the absence of the Prexies' star player, one player who has risen to the occasion is quarterback Jonathan Spina.
Spina had 23 pass attempts and 246 yards through the air in the team's first three games of the season. He had a breakout game Sept. 20 against Yough -- the team's first game after McKenzie's injury -- completing 9 of 13 passes for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
"The one thing they are doing more is throwing," Ruffner said. "It makes it much more difficult to defend Washington because when Shai was there, you knew they were going to feed him as much as they could.
"Our total focus is on Wash High, that's all we're thinking about," Ruffner said. "Come Friday we know we are facing a very good team, but our players will go out and make plays."
"You go into every game with high expectations to come out on top, but we know this game will determine the conference champions," Bosnic said.
Kelton Brooks: firstname.lastname@example.org First Published October 9, 2013 8:00 PM