Elkhart Central football coach Josh Shattuck may have said it best.
"The Mangy Lion game doesn't need more juice.''
Friday night at Rice Field, the juice may be at an all-time high, as the football teams of Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial get together for the final regular season game in the series. The schools will merge prior to he 2020 school year.
"I think a big key will be which team handles their emotions best,'' Shattuck said. "Not only do you have the emotion of week one – every coach across the state is talking about that – but then you throw in the Central-Memorial rivalry, the crowd and other outside factors, and you have a lot of things to deal with. This is just an awesome game and an awesome rivalry.''
"I've tried things all different ways in my five years, but I think the best thing is to just let kids be kids,'' Memorial coach Scot Shaw said. "We'll obviously talk to them about how much emotions can drain you. We want them to play hard and do the things we've taught them to do and try not to do too much.''
Last season, Central cruised to a 38-7 victory, as halfback Mark Brownlee – in his first game with the Blue Blazers after transferring from Memorial – started a memorable junior year with 255 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. Central scored 38 straight points after the Chargers took a 7-0 lead.
This season, Brownlee is back and healthy again, after suffering a high ankle sprain late last season and struggling through the state tournament.
"Obviously, we'll have to find a way to corral Mark this season and not let him go crazy,'' Shaw said. "Last season, we had eight sophomores, most of them playing in their first varsity game, trying to stop him. This year, those kids are juniors with a full season and an off-season in the weight room behind them and hopefully that will make a difference on Friday. Plus, their knowledge of the game is much better too.''
In addition to Brownlee, Elkhart Central also returns quarterback Isaiah Chandler, slot receiver Dominic Davis and all five starters along the offensive line.
"I like where we're at talent-wise, but we're just not very deep just yet,'' Shattuck said. "We have good players at every position, it's not like we're putting mediocre players out there. I feel good about our starters, but we don't have two waves of kids we can put in the game. This isn't a slight on our back-ups at all, we're still working to develop the depth we're going to need.''
Because of the need to stay healthy, Shattuck admits he and his staff have been working to find the right balance between being aggressive and physical in games and not hitting too much in practice to keep everyone healthy.
"One of the reasons we have good depth at running back, is the way we handled Mark in the off-season,'' Shattuck admitted. "We want him fresh and healthy going into the season, so there were times we wouldn't have him in pads or not have him carry the ball much this summer and that helped develop some of the kids behind him.''
But don't look past the talent and experience Shaw has back at Memorial, as every player expected to start at the 22 positions on Friday night has previous starting experience at the varsity level.
"I thought Memorial looked as well connected on offense and defense as I've ever seen during their scrimmage (with South Bend St. Joseph),'' Shattuck said. "They looked confident, extremely aggressive on both sides of the ball and of course they have speed everywhere. But to me, the biggest thing is those kids looked like a well-oiled machine and the players and coaching staff looked totally bought in.
"They're excited on the other side of town and I sure can't blame them.''
One of the big keys to the Chargers season will be the play of senior quarterback Tyler Lehner. A two-year starter at Memorial, Lehner has strong weapons around him and an experienced offensive line. Shaw also has a solid one-two punch at running back in Derrick Woods and Ivan Soen.
"We will need to hang onto the ball and not make mistakes,'' Shaw said of his offense. "Last season we threw a pick-six to (Central's Ricky) Rocha that really started the avalanche against us. For us to be successful, we have to stay away from turnovers.
"I thought our line did a great job in the scrimmage, so Tyler wasn't running for his life all night. He had time to throw and make good decisions with the football and it also gave him the opportunity to run the ball. Hopefully, we'll get that kind of performance on Friday night too.''
Elkhart Central, which once won 15 straight games against Memorial, leads the all-time series with 27 wins compared to 20 for the Chargers.
• 46 GAME: The Central-Memorial game will be the Channel 46 Game of the Week, with Chuck Freeby, Bob Nagle and Bo Hundt handling the announcing.
Broadcast times are 11 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday on WHME.
Elkhart Memorial at Elkhart Central
Jimtown at NorthWood
Concord at SB St. Joseph
Goshen at Fairfield
Northridge at SB Adams
Penn at Valparaiso, 7:30
All games at 7 p.m. unless noted.