For a decade, it was a rivalry built in reverse. It was growing less intense with time. When North Ridgeville quarterback Eric Proszek was attending varsity games back in his middle school years, the Rangers no longer scheduled games with Midview — its oldest and most impassioned rival.
Among fans, players and coaches, the grudge was only a distant memory, a few shreds of ancient history that meant nothing toward the current standings.
Then, suddenly, in 2005 the rivalry was reborn when Midview and North Ridgeville became charter members of the West Shore Conference.
When the two teams meet tonight in North Ridgeville, it will mark the third year of this renewed rivalry.
The Rangers (7-2 overall, 4-2 WSC) won 21-20 in overtime in 2005, thereby locking up the WSC title, while the Middies (7-2, 4-2) overwhelmed North Ridgeville a year ago with a 27-0 shellacking.
Since 1970, the two teams have met 28 times, with Midview winning 14 of those matchups, while North Ridgeville took 13. In 1983, they played to a 14-14 draw.
Tonight’s game has all the makings of a classic. While neither team has a shot at winning a conference championship — Rocky River (9-0, 6-0) wrapped it up with convincing victories over both — the Middies and Rangers have a shot at the postseason.
Seven of the eight playoffs slots in Division 2, Region 6 have already been filled, leaving only one window open for six contenders. With a victory, Midview has the best shot of advancing and would likely overtake its closest competitor for that slot, Bowling Green. North Ridgeville is also mathematically alive, but would need to knock off the Middies and have several other games fall in its favor.
But the playoffs merely serve as the backdrop to a rivalry that is in full bloom.
“We’re not worried about making the playoffs,” said North Ridgeville senior middle linebacker Mike Wilson. “It’s more about beating Midview. I’d rather beat Midview and not make the playoffs than the other way around. It’s our biggest game of the year.”
North Ridgeville and Midview have a rivalry built on geography, history and a long run of football excellence. They both feature veteran head coaches well-steeped in their respective programs. And both teams feature physical, hard-hitting defenses that play the same 3-3 stack.
Bill Albright is in his 21st year as a head coach at Midview and has been a part of the coaching staff for 30 years. The tension and excitement of the annual game, he says, hasn’t lost any of its power.
“If you go back to when I started in 1977, we were both in the Lakeland Conference and it was always a big game then,” said Albright. “And whether it’s in the Lakeland or Erie Shore Conference or the West Shore Conference, it’s always been a good one. This goes back to before I was even at Midview High School. It’s always been there.”
North Ridgeville coach Jeff Riesen was a rookie head coach serving as an assistant in 1974 when he was first indoctrinated to the rivalry.
“I think part of it is that there’s neighboring boundaries between North Ridgeville and Grafton,” said Riesen, who served as an assistant at Midview in 2005 before taking over at North Ridgeville a year later. “But it’s also that these teams respect one another as being top programs. And when you’re both good, you’re going to run into one another and have some great games.”
One of the most memorable games came two years ago when the Rangers and Eagles met in North Ridgeville for their first game in a decade.
Midview senior linebacker Ross Moore was only a sophomore then and was limited to special-teams duty. But he recalls the sudden change in atmosphere within his community, especially from longtime football fans.
“That first year we played them, we had so many people coming up to us and telling us the history between the two teams,” Moore said. “I never knew how deep the rivalry runs. But after that game, you just knew. And now, every year one of our goals is to beat Ridgeville. One of our other goals is to make the playoffs. We can accomplish two of those with one win.”
Midview will enter the matchup riding a three-game winning streak, but with a host of its key personnel either slowed by injury or unable to play at all. The Middies lost versatile defensive end Dave Rankin earlier in the year to torn ligaments in his knee and saw senior quarterback Adam Koubek and sophomore tailback Josiah Holt knocked out of last Friday’s 34-13 win over Bay with concussions.
Albright acknowledged that some players might be unable to go.
“Yeah, but I’m not going to say who,” Albright said. “We’re a bit beat up. But that’s the nature of the beast in football. We’re in the same boat as a lot of other teams.”
North Ridgeville is dealing with its own set of issues. The Rangers were shocked last week by Avon 14-12. With a loss tonight, North Ridgeville is in danger of duplicating last year’s downward slide in the final two weeks, which cast a pall on an otherwise impressive season.
If the long history of North Ridgeville and Midview has taught anything over the years, it’s that records bear no meaning when these two teams step out onto a football field.
“Coaches told me how deep this rivalry runs, but you really don’t appreciate it until you’re out there,” Proszek said. “There’s just an intensity. The whole place is crazy. On any other night, it’s just another football game. But once you get to Midview, it’s just bigger. Everything’s bigger.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.