What a difference 24 months can make.
The 2016 Haldimand-Norfolk Football League season was the first and last time the Simcoe Sabres travelled to Delhi to face the Raiders in their annual Friday Night Lights contest.
Back then Simcoe was a team looking to establish itself while the Raiders were on their way to a second straight Haldimand-Norfolk Bowl appearance.
Fast forward to this week where it’s the Sabres (1-1) that have visions of the ‘big dance’ while the Raiders (0-2) are looking to regain their championship form.
Up to 1000 people are expected to attend this week’s contest, which will also determine the winner of the ‘Mud Jug’ – a coveted symbol of dominance that Simcoe wrestled away from Delhi in 2017 after the trophy resided at DDSS for the better part of a decade.
“The Simcoe/Delhi rivalry has always been strong in all sports, not just football,” said Delhi coach Dave Leatherland. “We did have a nice run but Simcoe has a solid team, they were a really good team last year and they took the Mud Jug back and we’re expecting them to be strong again this year. This will be a tough game for us but we embrace these challenges … They want the Mud Jug back, there’s an empty space in our trophy case right now we’d like to fill back up.”
A young Raiders roster has faced last year’s H-N Bowl competitors in McKinnon Park and Waterford thus far. Things won’t get easier with the Sabres in town Friday, but if the Raiders are going to make a run in this year’s playoffs, now would be the time to get hot.
“Being 0-2 right now, we definitely want to win this week for league standings, seedings in playoffs as well as just (gaining) momentum,” said Leatherland. “Let’s face it, it’s not how you’ve done early in the season, it’s the team that’s often hottest and on a roll at the end of the season and we would like to start to try to get on to that roll.”
The Sabres are coming off a hotly contested 16-0 loss at the hands of the defending league champions in McKinnon Park. Coach Chris Harvey and his staff have been working on getting their players focused on the upcoming matchup on a short week due to Young Canada Day on Tuesday.
“I think there’s still some negative feelings for lack of a better word that we need to work on and see if the guys can turn it around and turn those negatives into positives,” Harvey said. “Friday night is an opportunity to do it on a big stage.”
The Sabres have lost only ten starters since their last appearance in the Friday night contest and the current group is looking forward to their first of two premier games in a row with the Pumpkin Bowl in Waterford next Saturday.
“I think the experience is awesome to be able to graduate your high school career and say we played Friday Night Lights games,” said Harvey.
“It’s not about winning football games, it’s about teaching kids … it’s about preparing, about being able to control your emotions until game time, overcoming odds you wouldn’t face on a Friday afternoon. We’re pretty excited for the opportunity.”
So too are the Raiders as many will have the chance to perform before a throng of family, friends, and classmates.
“It’s nice having the home field advantage,” said Raiders running back Jacob Schooley. “There’s a lot of people there and when we have big plays they’ll cheer and when SCS has big plays it will be pretty quiet so I think we’ll get pretty amped up for that, it will motivate us more and give us an edge.”
Without a win this year, the Raiders may be down but Schooley said his team is not one to be counted out.
“We’ve played two really tough teams so we’re looking forward to the second half of the season, hopefully we can get some wins,” he said. “We’ve been working really hard in practice, so I think our team has a lot of potential for the second half.”
Kickoff for the contest goes at 8 p.m. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students. Children 9-and-under are free.