Grace Community celebrated a homecoming victory last week with a large fireworks display after the game that reminded coach Mike Maddox of Fourth of July festivities.
It was on the third of July in 2012 that Maddox's friend and assistant Coby Gipson left the Cougars to be the head coach at rival Bishop Gorman.
After Maddox won the first two meetings between the two, Gipson won his first game against his mentor in last year's 28-14 victory on the last day of the regular season.
Now the two friends are foes once again with the stakes as high as they've ever been in the Grace-Gorman series.
The Cougars host the Crusaders on Senior Night from Clyde-Perkins Stadium, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The winner claims second place in TAPPS D-II District 2 and the right to host a first-round playoff game. The loser finishes third and heads to Houston for the first round.
"That definitely adds a little bit to the game," Maddox said. "I think both of us want to continue to improve as a team and look forward to the playoffs. You still take it like any other district game."
Both teams are 8-1, 5-1 in league play, with their lone losses coming to Dallas Christian. The Chargers beat Grace 16-14 and Gorman 35-6, playing both games in Mesquite.
Gorman has never hosted a home playoff game in TAPPS Division II.
"I have a locker room full of history makers and they'd love to add that to their résumé," Gipson said.
Despite the stakes, Gipson said his players will be looking at this matchup as they would any other district game, like Maddox said.
"We tell our kids all the time that every district game has the same value in terms of the win," Gipson said. "It just happens that we're playing a school two miles down the road that we have a lot in common with in terms of core values and the passion the coaches have not only for the game but for helping student athletes maximize their potential."
Longtime rivals in other sports, these two familiar foes have met on the gridiron just seven times, with Grace holding a 5-2 advantage.
The Crusaders won the first meeting 35-28 in 2008 as well as the most recent. In between, the Cougars won by scores of 38-7, 49-14, 60-6, 61-0 and then 7-3 in 2013.
In addition to the two friendly coaches, players and parents are also intertwined, making this matchup one of the biggest every year.
"They spend all summer going to the same camps, … (they) workout in the same off-campus facilities," Gipson said. "I think there's a healthy respect because each school knows how hard the other one works."
The matchup itself should be one of the best in TAPPS this year. The teams have similar numbers in both scoring offense/defense and total offense/defense.
Grace holds the edge in scoring offense (38.2-35.1) and scoring defense (13.8-16.6) while Gorman has the advantage in offensive production (520.9-465.7), though the Cougars have held opponents to 250.4 yards per game.
"It's just so similar," Maddox said of the two teams. "Not only do the kids know each other, but you're looking out there and you're seeing two offenses that look very similar and two defenses that look very similar - two programs that are very similar in the way they're set up and run."
As for the coaches, Maddox and Gipson converse on a weekly basis, even during the season, although their chats this week may be limited to after the game on Friday.
"It's always good to get together; it's never all about football," Maddox said. "When you coach together and in the profession we're in, you always have ideas that you're willing to share with each other that go beyond the Xs and Os, but goes to just how to make your overall program stronger and make it more impactful in the kids' life now and down the road as adults."
Added Gipson: "He will always be a mentor to me in coaching and in life."
With more than bragging rights on the line between the two closely knit programs, fans could be in store for some fantastic football fireworks on Friday.
BROOK HILL AT ALL SAINTS
While two rivals for playoff positioning, All Saints and Bullard Brook Hill just want to finish off the year with a victory. Brook Hill faces All Saints at 7:30 p.m. at Mewbourne Field.
The Guard were eliminated from postseason contention two weeks ago with a road loss to Frisco Legacy Christian. Brook Hill (3-6) rebounded to defeat Carrollton Prince of Peace last week for its second district win. All Saints (2-7, 0-6) has yet to win a district game, but has a chance to send its seniors out on a winning note.
Grace Community vs. Bishop Gorman series history
Grace leads series 5-2
2014: 28-14 Gorman
2013: 7-3 Grace
2012: 61-0 Grace
2011: 60-6 Grace
2010: 49-14 Grace
2009: 38-7 Grace
2008: 35-28 Gorman