The Backyard Brawl is the biggest annual rivalry game Warren County has to offer.
Yet, the Eisenhower and Youngsville high school football programs have no problem emulating one another, according to the head coaches.
When both teams are headed in the right direction.
Times Observer file photos
Above, Youngsville head coach Luke Alex, top left, overlooks a drill during a football practice before the Eagles competed in the District 10 Class A playoffs. Despite losing a lot to graduation, Alex hopes the program has turned a corner and can again compete for the Region 2 crown in the 2012 season. Below, Eisenhower Knight fans attend Youngsville’s playoff game with hopes the Knights will be there in 2012.
Times Observer file photo
Eisenhower head coach Jim Penley, left, talks to his team during the winless 2010 season in which a number a freshmen and sophomores were seeing extended playing time. Last year, the Knights finished 3-7, including losing three games late in the fourth quarter. This year, Penley has 20+ letterwinners returning and has high expectations to compete for the Region 2 crown.
"The only time we don't want to be a fan of Eisenhower is the night we're playing them," said Youngsville head football coach Luke Alex, whose team is the defending Region 2 champion after a 10-0 regular season in 2011.
It might be unfair to compare this year's Eisenhower football team to last year's Eagles, but the Knights do return a lot of junior and senior starters, including seniors Nathan O'Brien and Aaron Lundmark. O'Brien was voted to the all-region first team as a defensive back and the second team at punter. Also a receiver, he led the Knights with 17 catches for 239 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Aaron Lundmark, also a returning senior. Lundmark threw for 589 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the line, Jared Flaisman returns after being voted to the all-region second team. Jeb Fedorchuk, John Pascuzzi, Trevor Spicer, Rob Wilston, Alex Johnson and Jarrett Johnson are back as well..
Last 10 Backyard Brawls
2001: Youngsville 14, Eisenhower 6
2002: Eisenhower 36, Youngsville 0
2003: Eisenhower 24, Youngsville 0
2004: Eisenhower 26, Youngsville 12
2005: Eisenhower 16, Youngsville 7
2006: Youngsville 20, Eisenhower 7
2007: Eisenhower 28, Youngsville 8
2008: Eisenhower 40, Youngsville 0
2009: Eisenhower 28, Youngsville 20
2010: Youngsville 24, Eisenhower 13
2011: Youngsville 42, Eisenhower 13
Pascuzzi carried the ball 115 times for 730 yards and four touchdowns, while Spicer had 361 yards and a touchdown on 80 carries. Wilston was third with 326 yards and one touchdown on 90 carries, while Alex Johnson ran for 184 yards and one touchdown. Alex Johnson also had 62 tackles and Spicer had 52.
"We are a lot like last year's Youngsville team based on experience," said Eisenhower head coach Jim Penley, whose Knights have gone from a winless season two years ago to 3-7 last year with many close games. "(Last year's Youngsville team) is what we have to aspire to be at this point."
A playoff team.
A region champion.
"Even though they are a rival, I've told people you can't have a rivalry without a respect for that other team," said Penley. "That rivalry comes from a healthy respect of one another. We see what they did last year. You hope you can learn from the positives of it. For us, you can obviously look at somebody like that and say, 'What type of team do you want to be?'
"My goal has always been to win a district title (at Eisenhower)," said Penley, "and that's my number one goal. I'd really like to go 10-0; whatever it takes to get (to the district title). If, along the way, you win a bunch of games, well, that's great."
Penley believes both Eisenhower and Youngsville could be among the Class A playoff teams come the end of the regular season. That would make Week 9's Youngsville at Eisenhower game on Friday, Oct. 26, something to salivate over.
"What I'd love to see happen is all four county teams make the playoffs," said Penley.
"The expectation on this team is we think we can have a really good year this year," he said. "With us, we have a team that has a lot of seniors and juniors playing. We feel we have a really good mix... with two sophomores starting as well. We have to have high expectations."
It's a way of thinking that Youngsville has already bought into, according to coach Alex.
Last year was one of the best seasons in school history with a 10-1 record, Region 2 championship and trip to the District 10 Class A playoffs. The Eagles' 42-13 win over Eisenhower equaled Youngsville's first 6-0 start in 41 years.
But the Eagles are a different team this year after the graduation of Cory Craig, Sawyer Dininny, Sam Lucas, Dalton Maze, Stephen Beattie, Sage Sivak, Ryan Rickerson and Kyle Rafalski, leaving huge holes to fill. Craig was an all-district pick at defensive back and an all-region quarterback. Dininny and Beattie were voted to the all-region first team at offensive and defensive line, while Lucas and Sivak were voted first-team linebackers. Maze was a second-team defensive back and Ryan Rickerson was a second-team offensive lineman. The Eagles lost a total of seven starters on offense and eight on defense to graduation.
"It's really caught on with the legacy that started (in the last few years)," said Alex. "I think it's always good when you are setting the bar to where other teams want to be."
He said coaches don't have to pound in a message anymore - the players do it themselves.
"The kids know this season can go as far as we can take it," he said.
It's not a rebuilding year, but rather a reloading year.
The Eagles return first-team linebacker Jordan Gurdak and first-team defensive back Rocco Gatta. T.J. Hardy, a first-team kicker, is also back at receiver and defensive end. Gurdak and Gatta bring experience to the backfield while junior Jake Marino is taking over at quarterback with only one pass attempt last year. Gatta had two rushing touchdowns and four receiving TD's last year - with 17 catches for 209 yards. Gurdak had 707 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including 224 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone against Saegertown.
"We're preaching to be better than last year's team," said Alex, whose Eagles scrimmaged Eisenhower two weeks ago.
He also thinks both teams will be competitive in the region, possibly making Week 9's game one of the most important Backyard Brawls in a long time.
Though the Eagles concentrate on "one game at a time," said Alex, "it's hard to ignore a team less than 15 miles away."
One of us has to take down Mercyhurst Prep, he said.