When the Peninsula District football schedule was released nine months ago, they eye-catcher was that Hampton vs. Phoebus would be on the regular season's final Friday. It marked a rare moment of harmony between head coaches Mike Smith of the Crabbers and Stan Sexton of the Phantoms, who wanted no part of such a physical and emotional game being played just before the playoffs.
Week 10 is here, and you can bet that Darling Stadium will have its biggest crowd of the season Friday night. But for the first time since this year's senior class was in elementary school, each team comes in with a loss and neither is in first place.
And, you could argue, it isn't the most significant game in the Peninsula District this week.
On Thursday night, Woodside has a chance to win its first-ever PD championship. The opponent is no pushover: Bethel has only lost twice and has the best passing game this side of the HRBT. And the Bruins are playing to get in a top-four position for a first-round home game.
"I hadn't thought about it that way, but the last game of the season has a lot more bearing now than what we're used to," Wolverines coach Danny Dodson said. "It's been a while. I remember a few years ago (2006) we had to beat Hampton in the last game to get into the playoffs, but that was a different situation."
No, this is a different situation. Very different.
Woodside (9-0, 8-0 PD) is in position to become only the fourth Newport News school to finish in sole possession of first place in the Peninsula District's 47-year history. They'd be only the second since 1971.
The Wolverines' 39-0 win over Denbigh last week clinched at least a share of the title and a trophy. But a win over Bethel would mean an outright championship.
While Thursday night's game at Darling has more significance, Hampton-Phoebus always creates the most buzz. It's also the only game guaranteed to pack the stands -- which, quite frankly, hasn't been happening this year.
Eleven days ago, Phoebus faced Woodside in a battle of unbeatens at Darling. According to Hampton City Schools officials, it drew a crowd of approximately 2,700 -- nearly 5,000 short of capacity.
Last season, 9,400 came out for the Hampton-Phoebus regular-season game. In fact, the fire marshal ordered the gates closed at halftime. Because of the turnout, city officials inspected the stadium a month later. Seating capacity was lowered from 10,200 to 7,500.
(Curiously, only 4,700 turned out when the Crabbers and Phantoms played five weeks later in the Eastern Region Division 5 final).
These are, traditionally, the district's two powerhouses. Hampton has won 17 state championships; Phoebus has won six, all since 2001. In seven of the past nine previous meetings, both teams came in undefeated and tied for first place.
Even though the district title isn't on the line, the No. 1 seeding in the ER's Division 5 could be. The Phantoms, currently a full point ahead of the Crabbers, can clinch the top spot with a win. But Hampton could reverse things if it wins.
"It would have been nice for this game to decide the district title," Sexton said. "But to me, the game still has a lot of meaning to it."Copyright © 2015, CT Now