L'ANSE - If L'Anse coach Mark Leaf or Lake Linden-Hubbell coach Andy Crouch aren't coaching their own teams on a given Friday night or Saturday afternoon, they can often be found watching the other's squad.
However, it's been a while since they've seen the other's team from the opposite sideline in anything other than a scrimmage.
For the first time since 2007, the Purple Hornets and Lakes meet in an interesting Division 8 pre-district clash at Meadowbrook Field.
"I am a little bit familiar with them, but it's just a matter of doing what you do best at this point. The team that blocks better and tackles better is going to win in the playoffs," Crouch said.
The Lakes earned a wild card into the D-8 field after a 5-4 season, though looks may be deceiving considering LL-H played six of its nine games against playoff teams.
LL-H went 2-4 in those games, but it was the one in Week 8 against North Dickinson that essentially booked themselves into this game. Even the losses paid off, in a way.
"We've seen a variety of different things, and at times we've played really well against some really good competition. Because of the teams we've played, the better it makes you," Crouch said.
Both teams come in off a loss. The Lakes dropped their regular season finale to U.P. No. 1 Forest Park, while L'Anse got stung by a rally from a Munising team needing a sixth win for an automatic playoff berth.
"It was a tough way to end the season, but Munising's a quality football team. That was a good football game. We just have to learn we can't make mistakes. That hurt us in that ballgame," Leaf said.
Still, the Hornets have much to be proud about. For the second season running, they went 7-2, and for the first time in school history, they're a playoff team in consecutive years, which reflects well on Leaf's vision for the program as a whole.
"We're continuing to build, our numbers have gotten better over the last few years, it's a very positive sign for us," he said.
The foundation of L'Anse's recent success may be two anchors on the offensive line, Brandon Scroggs and Keith Denomie. They and their teammates being tough to move may make a difference tonight, Leaf said.
"Those are the guys we look to up front. They're big guys but they also move pretty well for their size," Leaf said.
Of course, with the way the Lakes like to play, Crouch would prefer to see them chasing ballcarriers rather than protecting them.
Playing offense, and thus keeping the ball out of the hands of powerful backs like Jimmy Veker, Ryan Beauprey and Brandon Kemppainen is what the Lakes will have to do to spring a surprise.
And when the Hornets do have it, they can't be allowed to lug it around.
"We can't let Veker run us over and get seven yards when he should get one," Crouch said.
The winner of tonight's game will move on to a district final either hosting the Gogebic Miners, or much more likely, at Forest Park.