Calvary Christian High coach Todd Yoder has been waiting for this type of game — a heart-stopping, cliff-hanging, five-star, four-act drama on the football field.
The Warriors host neighboring private school power Clearwater Central Catholic (6-0) tonight. At stake for Calvary Christian (3-1) is a chance to stay among the points leaders in Class 3A, Region 3 and earn a possible first-round postseason home game.
There also is an opportunity to do something the Warriors had never done: beat the Marauders.
"This is probably going to be the biggest game and the biggest crowd that we've ever had," Yoder said.
The competition is not just on the field. It involves the schools themselves in what has amounted to a high-stakes game of building up athletic facilities and sports programs to boost enrollment.
Calvary's stadium, which opened six years ago, is a $4.2 million complex that has every amenity imaginable, including a glass-enclosed weight room, individual lockers for the players, a state-of-the-art turf field and a video scoreboard.
A few years later, CCC installed turf, refurbished the locker room and added more bleachers and a press box on the home side of the field.
It took longer for the Warriors to construct a consistent playoff contender. Calvary Christian has had just two winning seasons and made the postseason in football just once since the program debuted in 2003.
Part of the struggle is the lack of coaching continuity. The Warriors have gone through six coaches in the program's 15-year history. Yoder, now in his sixth season, is the longest-tenured coach at the school.
Another factor is the rapid rise in enrollment. Calvary Christian has gone from Class 1B to 3A in seven years and is now in the same region with CCC.
This is the fifth meeting between the neighboring schools. The results have not been close. The Marauders won the previous four by an average score of 48-17.
Last year, there were some encouraging signs. The Warriors led 10-0 in the first quarter before wearing down.
Calvary Christian has some new weapons, including Amari Burney and D'andre Ferguson. The two transferred from CCC in the offseason, adding some intrigue to this rivalry.
"I think last year was the first time in the games we've played against them where we actually had kids believing we could win," Yoder said. "So we kind of got over that hump. The kids we have back remember that feeling and that we did that last year without Amari and D'andre and some of the others kids that we have. Now going into this year we have even more confidence."
Burney is a Florida commit who participated in Nike's The Opening this summer and is one of the players fans can vote on for a roster spot in the Under Armour All-America Game. The senior has 17 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
"It would mean a lot to win," Burney said. "We worry about every game, but I really started thinking about this one in the past week. It has a lot of meaning because I went to CCC for so many years.
"But we don't need to make it a bigger game than it already is. If we just go out and play our game, we have a chance to win."
Ferguson, who has offers from USF and Eastern Carolina, has 16 catches for 294 yards and five touchdowns.
"For Amari and myself, I don't think we have a different perspective because we've played at CCC," Ferguson said. "We're still the same players, just at a different school. It just feels like home at Calvary and it's a better environment for me."
The key might come from one of the holdovers. Ethan White, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive tackle, has started for the Warriors the past three years. The junior has several offers from major Division I-A schools.
"We just have to do our jobs," White said. "There's been a lot of talk around school about this one, but we've got to keep it like a regular game and save all that emotion for the field."