Just how hot the rivalry burns between Bellwood-Antis and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, even though it's been four years since they last met on a football field, was in evidence last Saturday night.
After advancing to the District 6 Class A quarterfinals the night before, a group of Blue Devil players came to take in Guilfoyle's first round game at Bellwood's Inter-County Conference nemesis, Juniata Valley, and sat smack dab in the middle of the home team's bleachers.
"We do still play them in basketball, so I would say there's still some rivalry there. As close as the schools are, it's a natural thing," B-A coach John Hayes said.
The teams were trying to schedule a non-league game for the 10th week of this season, but it fell through. No matter. The fifth-seeded Marauders and first-seeded Devils still managed to find a way to make their paths cross in Friday night's 6-A semifinal game at 7 p.m. at Bellwood's Memorial Stadium.
Bellwood brings a 10-1 record into the game. Guilfoyle, which is trying to avenge lopsided playoff defeats to the Blue Devils in 2007 and 2008, is 9-2.
"A lot of the guys that have been around the program for a number of years and a lot of the parents that remember the big rivalry BG and Bellwood used to have are filling me in," second-year Guilfoyle coach Justin Wheeler said. "I know this is definitely a big game for a lot of people in the area. A lot of our kids know a lot of their kids, so there's a familiarity with them. I know it's a huge week for us."
Who: Bishop Guilfoyle at Bellwood-Antis
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Records: B-A (10-1); BG (9-2)
At stake: Winner plays in the D6-A title game next weekend against Nor-thern Cambria/Bishop McCort winner
The stakes make it even bigger. Bellwood is looking for a repeat trip to the 6-A finals with what the Blue Devils hope will be a happier outcome. Guilfoyle is trying to get back to Mansion Park for a shot at its first district title in 25 years.
"I think it will generate a really good football atmosphere," said Hayes, who's been coaching at Bellwood for more than 30 years and faced BG regularly when the teams were members of the same conferences in the 1990s and earlier 2000s. "Our histories have generated a lot of good games and a lot of interest. Obviously, now that it's a playoff game, that should be hyped up and a little more intense."
This renewal of the series that began in 1925 is a matchup of two of the best defenses in the area. Guilfoyle enters the game ranked second in scoring defense, giving up 10.5 points per game. Bellwood is fifth at 12.8. Between them, the Marauders and Devils have combined for seven shutouts.
Five of those shutouts have been posted by Guilfoyle, but Bellwood's defense only has given up more than 15 points twice all year. The Devils even held District 6 Class AA semifinalist Richland, which put 35 points on the board against BG, to one offensive touchdown two weeks ago.
"Our defense really has been playing well. We've come up against some pretty good offensive football teams and managed to play some pretty good defense," Hayes said. "The kids have been excited about it and working hard. As you get further into the year, we get settled in a little bit more in the schemes you want to do."
The Devils have held two straight opponents to 170 yards or less. In its playoff opener, Bellwood limited Glendale to 140 yards and no offensive touchdowns.
Guilfoyle's defense has held the opposition to 12 touchdowns all season. Wheeler, though, sees this as a test on par with Richland or perhaps exceeding anything the Marauders have faced all year in some respects.
"Juniata Valley had some speed, and Bellwood might be the fastest team we play. Definitely, containing their speed is going to be the key to the game, and also their quarterback [Seth Worthing], who is definitely a runner," Wheeler said.
The Marauders played larger schools all year, but, going up against the top seed and defending runner-up, Wheeler said he is approaching this game as though BG were a clear underdog.
"I think people all year long have been expecting us not to do the things we have. We have a lot of stuff to prove. We're still striving to get better, and we don't think we've played our best game yet," Wheeler said. "We know people are counting us out. We've seen that before. Hopefully it turns out to our advantage this week."