It's hard to think about this year's Pleasant Valley-Stroudsburg football game and not flash back to two years ago.
Unfortunately for the Bears and head coach Jim Terwilliger, it is probably a night they wish they could forget.
A heavily-favored Pleasant Valley team traveled to Stroudsburg in 2010 with the out-right Mountain Valley Conference championship on the line. The Bears promptly went up 21-6 in the first half, but were left stunned as the Mounties scored 17 unanswered points and came back to win the game. The Bears were then forced to share the trophy with East Stroudsburg South.
"That game taught me a huge lesson," admitted Pleasant Valley head coach Jim Terwilliger. "It taught me to never approach a game and make it bigger than the next. That week we preached to the kids that it was the biggest game of the year and the only thing that mattered. I think because of that, we got tight and locked up when things started to go wrong.
"I don't think I will ever get over that loss, but it was a good thing in the sense that I learned a lot from it."
As fate would have it, the storyline is eerily the same heading into this Friday night. Although Pleasant Valley (7-2, 7-0) won't be looked at as the unquestioned favorite since both it and Stroudsburg (8-1, 7-0) are tied atop of the MVC standings, the conference title will once again be decided by this game. Once again the Bears will have to go through the Mounties if they want to win their first-ever out-right crown.
"It's going to be a big one," said Terwilliger. "Even if we weren't playing for the title it would still be a big game. Both teams have outstanding personnel and a ton of athletes. It is a heck of a matchup. It's kind of neat that we get to meet in week ten."
Stroudsburg is a much better team than it was two years ago. The Mounties have won eight in a row since losing to Northampton on opening night and are averaging 33.3 points-per-game (eighth in D11). Their defense has played up to the offense's level as well, as they are surrendering a mere 13 points-per-game (fifth in D11). Only two opponents have scored more than 15 points on Stroudsburg all year (Northampton - 20, ES South - 28).
Pleasant Valley is just as good on both sides of the ball. The Bears are putting up 34.7 points-per-game. That number is good for fifth in District 11 and ranks behind only offenses such as Catasauqua, Parkland, Tamaqua and Tri-Valley.
The big difference between this year's Pleasant Valley team and the one two years ago is its defense. Terwilliger knew coming into this year that his defensive unit had to improve if the Bears wanted to contend for a championship. After making Dave Pacchioni his defensive coordinator, the fourth-year head coach has seen the results. The locals are giving up 16.5 points-per-game (tenth in D11) - the lowest total during Terwilliger's tenure.
"Both teams have tremendous offenses and defenses," Terwilliger said. "Mosley has run for over 1,400 yards. (Austyn) Borre set the single-season rushing record for us. Their defense has been dominant while ours has been a strong point of our team.
"It's like the old adage, 'What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?' Well, we will see Friday night."
Pleasant Valley's defense will have three guys to key on. They are running backs Altarique Mosley and Gerald Douglas, along with wide receiver Donovan McDonald.
Mosley and Douglas are a dangerous one-two punch out of the backfield. The two totaled five touchdowns in last week's blowout victory over Dieruff. Mosley scored on his first three runs of the night, while Douglas racked up 126 yards and two touchdowns on just ten carries.
McDonald is a lightning-fast receiver that can take it the distance at any given moment. Sophomore quarterback Mike Nikorak is young and has been inconsistent in the passing game, but if he can somehow get the ball into McDonald's hands then big things can happen.
"They definitely have skill," said Terwilliger. "Mosley is one of the better running backs we have seen with his speed and vision. Because of that, it opens up the play-action and the shots to McDonald. We will have to limit the daylight for Mosley and keep multiple eyes on McDonald."
Another wild-card the Mounties possess is kicker Jordon Ellison. Ellison has kicked five field goals on the year and is at least capable of getting his team points if things bog down inside the 20-yard-line.
Friday night will mark the second time in four years that the Terwilliger-coached Bears will play for the MVC title. It is exactly what he envisioned when he took over the program in 2008.
"My goal was to develop a program that would complete for the MVC title," said Terwilliger. "We start with the off-season training and try to make it so that the road to the MVC title goes through Brodheadsville."
Technically the title will have to go through Stroudsburg this year. But Pleasant Valley will be looking to bring it back home.