By David Fong
Football practice officially opens throughout Ohio in just one week.
From there, it will be a sprint to opening night on Aug. 24 as teams will have just a little more than three weeks to practice, hold scrimmages and set their line-ups.
While the players and coaches are putting in work for the upcoming season, fans can now officially begin to dream about Friday night lights, chilly October evenings, marching bands, cheerleaders and all the things that make high school football season so wonderful.
As that dreaming begins, perhaps now would be a good time to take a sneak peak at five intriguing 2018 games involving local teams you won’t want to miss. While there will be dozens of games worth watching this fall, here are five that would appear to be of particular interest:
Fort Recovery at Lehman (Aug. 24)
Right out of the gate, a pair of perennial playoff teams will hook up in the season opener.
Last year, Fort Recovery came from behind to get the best of Lehman in a 27-21 overtime contest. From there, however, Lehman would win 10 games in a row, average more than 50 points per game and reach the Division VII regional semifinals. Fort Recovery also would go on to qualify for the Division VI regional playoffs.
In 2016, the two teams met in the season opener, with Fort Recovery escaping with a 21-20 win. Again, both teams would reach the playoffs that year. In 2015, Fort Recovery beat Lehman 36-0 in the opener, then went on to win the Division VII state title. Lehman also would qualify for the playoffs that year.
Miami East at Covington (Sept. 28)
The resurgence of the Miami East program in the past two decades under head coach Max Current, coupled with Covington’s long history of success, as made this battle between Miami County programs one of the best in the area of late.
Covington was the area team with the longest playoff streak (12 years) in the area until going 5-5 and missing out on the postseason last year. That leaves Miami East (seven years) as the local team with the longest current playoff streak.
A young Covington team still gave Miami East all it could handle last year as the Vikings eventually pulled away from a 34-26 victory, its first over the Buccaneers since 2014. Both teams return many of their starters from last year, which means this should be a crucial early game for both teams in the race for a Cross County Conference crown.
Piqua at Sidney (Sept. 28)
Piqua is one of a few teams that can boast a pair of rivalries with more than a century worth of tradition (we’ll talk about the Indians’ other rival later in this story).
While Piqua’s rivalry with Troy may be better known throughout the state, it should take nothing away from its rivalry with Sidney, its neighbor to the north. For decades, the two teams have been playing for the “Battered Helmet” trophy. Historically, Piqua holds a 77-39-6 edge in the rivalry.
Lately, this game has provided plenty of thrills for fans. Last season, Sidney thwarted Piqua’s two-point conversion attempt to hold on for a 34-33 victory. In 2016, Piqua rolled to a 33-13 win. Three years ago, Sidney converted a late field goal for the 17-14 win.
Troy at Piqua (Oct. 26)
Obviously no list of must-see local high school football games would be complete without this one. This year, Piqua and Troy will meet for the 134th time in the most-played high school football rivalry in the state. Troy took a 64-63-6 lead in the series last year with a victory in Troy Memorial Stadium. The game returns to Alexander Stadium this year.
This rivalry game — already one of the best in the state — has taken on added significance the past two years as the Greater Western Ohio Conference American League North Division title has been decided in this game, as have playoff berths. This will be the final GWOC meeting between the two teams as they both will continue the rivalry in the resurrected Miami Valley League in 2019.
If you can only see one high school football game all season, this is probably the one you’ll want to attend.
Riverside at Lehman (Oct. 27)
For the past few years, this game has gone a long way in deciding the Northwest Central Conference champion. Last year, Lehman defeated Riverside 45-14 to wrap up sole possession of the NWCC title. The previous two meetings were much more competitive, however. In 2016, Lehman defeated Riverside 35-30. In 2015, Lehman beat Riverside 26-21 in a battle of playoff qualifiers.
This game will be played on a Saturday night, allowing more fans who would normally watch a different game to attend.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong