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Hubbard, Struthers renew their rivalry tonight

With three weeks of games in the books, the high school football season kicks into a new gear tonight with the start of league play for the vast majority of area teams.

Hubbard and Girard both won league titles a year ago as members of the All-American Conference, White Tier and Blue Tier, respectively. The Eagles and Indians will now compete for the same league title as members of the newly-formed Northeast-8 Conference.

Highlighting the first-ever slate of NE-8 games is the 86th meeting between Hubbard (2-1) and Struthers (2-1). The Eagles and Wildcats will square off tonight at Laddie J. Fedor Field in Struthers.

Hubbard and Struthers first met in 1916. The Wildcats lead the series 54-31. Last year Hubbard rolled to a 41-0 victory.

“Hubbard and Struthers is a great rivalry because you’re talking about two blue collar communities which love tough, physical football,” said Struthers coach Curt Kuntz. “In recent times, the winner of this game usually ends up achieving a lot of its goals for the season. It’s always an important game for both clubs.”

Kuntz expects the inaugural season of the NE-8 to be competitive from start to finish.

“From top to bottom, this is an extremely well-balanced group of schools,” Kuntz said. “Even with the smaller school in South Range, there isn’t going to be a learning curve because that program is so used to winning. It is so well-coached.

“There aren’t many scenarios where if one team beats another it would be considered a major surprise. There’s so much parity in this league, anything can happen.”

Two NE-8 schools look to remain perfect as they head into league play. Niles (3-0) travels to Jefferson (1-2) while Girard (3-0) hosts Lakeview (1-2).

Fitch (3-0) looks to remain perfect when it travels to Mollenkopf Stadium to take on Warren G. Harding (1-2) in a non-league game. The Raiders own a slim 15-14 series advantage over the Falcons.

Salem, Southern and Leetonia also all look to push their records to 4-0 tonight. On Saturday, Garrettsville Garfield will put its 3-0 record to the test against Warren John F. Kennedy (2-1).

Highlighting the slate of conference match-ups is the 75th meeting between McDonald and Mineral Ridge. The two teams will battle tonight in a Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference showdown at the Joe Lane Sports Complex in Mineral Ridge.

McDonald won a share of the first-ever MVAC title in 2016. The Blue Devils won the title outright a year ago.

McDonald and Mineral Ridge first met in 1927. The Blue Devils won the first seven meetings, then the teams played to 0-0 ties in back-to-back years. The series ended in 1941, then resumed in 1961. The two teams will play for the 59th consecutive year.

McDonald leads the series 50-20-4. The Blue Devils (1-2) currently own a six-game winning streak in the rivalry, outscoring the Rams 239-49 during the stretch.

However, Mineral Ridge (3-0) is off to its best start since 2012. The Rams are looking to go 4-0 for the fist time since 2007.

“I learned right away that the communities of McDonald and Mineral Ridge don’t like each other from a football standpoint,” said first-year Rams coach Brian Shaner. “This is definitely a heated rivalry. McDonald has gotten the best of us in recent times, we hope we can turn the tide.”

Shaner insists that McDonald’s slow start is not indicative of the Devils’ true potential.

“Who knows where we would we be if we opened with Brookfield, Crestview and Columbiana,” Shaner said of McDonald’s first three opponents. “Kudos to them for playing such a rugged non-conference schedule. They’re an established, well-coached program. They aren’t going to be intimidated by anyone.”

The first week of the MVAC slate also includes a battle of unbeaten teams. Springfield and Lowellville will match 3-0 records at Lowellville, while Jackson-Milton (3-0) will look to remain undefeated when it hosts Western Reserve (2-1). Sebring (2-1), which entered the season on a 22-game losing streak, looks for its third straight win when it travels to Waterloo (0-3).