Pardon City College coach George Petrides if he seems overly eager about playing Poly in this year's annual Thanksgiving Day football game, but he just can't help it.
There have not been many times in the recent history of this 103-year-old series that City has been the favorite.
"It feels a little different," Petrides said earlier this week, before his team began its final tuneup for the contest, which the Knights have won just twice in the past 20 years.
"I'm kind of anxious for the game to get here," Petrides added. "Before I didn't mind the wait as much."
Who could blame him?
No. 1 City (9-0) has been one of the area's most dominant teams this season, outscoring its opponents, 268-49, and No. 17 Poly (5-4) has struggled on offense and is trying to avoid only its third non-winning season during coach Augie Waibel's 25 years at Poly. Poly leads the series, 50-46, and there have been six ties.
City can also win the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title outright with a victory. The Knights are 8-0 in the conference, followed by Loyola and Calvert Hall, both 7-1.
For Waibel, this year's matchup conjures up memories of the 1989 game when Poly won, 36-8. The Engineers came in ranked No. 1 with a high-powered offense fueled by quarterback Chris Lafferman, running back Vernon Smith and split end Antonio Freeman. Only this time the roles are reversed.
"City has [running back Hari] Lymon, [tight end Charles] Ransom and [quarterback Terrence] Suber,"said Waibel. "This could be that kind of game. That year it was close for a half, then they wore us down. No one has worn down our defense this year."
Suber is the steadying hand and driving force behind City's offense. The junior has mastered City's option with 325 yards rushing on 52 carries, and he adds another dimension with his passing accuracy. He has completed 46 of 76 for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Lymon has 156 carries for 923 yards and 17 touchdowns.
City's offense has overshadowed a defense that has three shutouts and has allowed more than six points in only two games.
Safety Ron Wallace, defensive lineman Marshall Holmes, linebackers Ransom, Kenyunia Williams, Brandon Bull and John Jackson lead a group that has stymied opposing offenses with its quickness and aggressiveness.
"We swarm, we tackle hard and we make it tough for teams to go inside or outside," said Ransom, who has 11 sacks and two interceptions.
Defense is the only reason Poly is not entering this game with a losing record.
Defensive end Steve Logan and defensive back Tramont Evans are the leaders for a squad that has not allowed a touchdown in 16 straight quarters of regulation play. Calvert Hall scored a touchdown in overtime.
Waibel is hoping his team can match City's speed and quickness, which no other team has been able to do this season.
"The thing that makes me feel this could be close is we match up speed-wise defensively," he said. "If we contain those three I mentioned and get a couple of breaks, we could give them a good ballgame."
Poly's five wins this season have come against teams that were not ranked at the time. The Engineers' four losses were to ranked teams: Gibbons, 9-6; Loyola, 14-0; Gilman, 3-0; and Calvert Hall, 7-6.
Poly lost two key players to ineligibility before the season started and lost its best defensive player, linebacker Derrick Odoms, to a season-ending knee injury in the third game after he missed the first two games with an injured arm.
After beginning the season 1-2, then winning four straight, Poly has lost its past two, to Gilman and Calvert Hall. But Waibel is finding that there are some advantages to being the underdog in the annual Thanksgiving Day game.
"It's easier when you are in the situation we are in," he said. "You don't have TV people here every day. All that is very distracting, but when you are 5-4 you don't have that problem."
It's a problem Petrides gets to enjoy this year.
NOTE: Baltimore City's Cable 44 will air the Poly-City game tonight at 8, tomorrow at 11 p.m., Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Cable 17 in Baltimore County will air the game Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Monday at 12:30 a.m. Gary Stein will do the play-by-play and Bob Wade will provide the color commentary.