Marietta High will face one of its toughest openers ever when the Tigers travel to Hillard Darby Aug. 22.
You have to go back to 1952 perhaps for a tougher test, a 40-0 loss to Parkersburg to trigger an 0-9 season.
But 1953 produced a tremendous turnaround, an 8-1 season and a Central Ohio League championship. The lone loss for Coach Fred Pierson's Tigers was 18-7 to the Big Reds in the second game.
Hilliard Darby was 11-2, a Division I regional finalist, and No. 6 in the final Associated Press poll last season.
The Panthers will be good again but not as good as last season. Among the wealth of talent missing are quarterback Jeremy Ebert, a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard passer, running back Jordan Richeson, a 1,000-yard rusher, and first team All-Ohio linebacker B. J. Machen.
Ebert will play at Northwestern, Machen at Georgia Tech, and Richeson at Findlay.
"They were a very talented, senior-oriented team last year," said Steve Blackledge, The Columbus Dispatch's ace prep writer.
Darby also lost its head coach, Paul Jenne, for reportedly "personal reasons" and defensive coordinator John Santagata took over.
Last season, the Panthers avenged their only regular season loss with a 16-3 victory over Groveport Madison in the first round of the state playoffs, then whacked Upper Arlington 35-10 before losing to Dublin Coffman 42-35. Coffman lost to eventual state champ Cincinnati St. Xavier only 10-7 in the state semi-finals.
"I still think Darby is expected to be a very solid team," said Blackledge. "They have made a move the last few years to become one of the better teams in the Columbus area. They should be 6-4 or 7-3 this season."
Harrison Reed, a free safety who made almost a 100 tackles last season, and 230-pound tackle Nazar Sokora, are among Darby's best players.
Marietta will start getting ready in earnest for its big season-opening test Saturday at 6 p.m. at Don Drumm Stadium with a scrimmage against former rival Bellaire.
The Tigers and Big Reds played every year from the late 1950s into the 1980s, 28 straight seasons to be exact.
Marietta's season-opening three-game stretch prior to the SEOAL opener Sept. 12 at home against Warren will be rugged non-conference exams - a trip to Cambridge Aug. 29 and home contest against New Philadelphia Sept. 5 following the Darby encounter.
The New Philadelphia battle starts a string of five straight home games for the Tigers. That's possibly a first time for MHS. Home games with Parkersburg South, Jackson, and Logan follow New Philly and Warren. The season will be finished on the road - Zanesville, Portsmouth, and Gallipolis.
Bill Robinson is a former Marietta Times sports editor.