The annual backyard meeting between Northview and Southview always has plenty at stake.
Sylvania bragging rights are a given.
Yet, this year's meeting before a standing-room-only crowd at Cats Stadium suggested a little more was at stake than in recent meetings between the neighborhood rivals.
Northview entered the game undefeated in the Northern Lakes League and the front-runner for the league title with three weeks to play in the regular season.
Southview, the defending league champion, went into the contest with just a single league defeat and hopes of still contending for the league title.
Southview kept its league-title hopes alive by coming through with a gritty 17-16 victory before a crowd estimated at 5,500.
Southview kicker Kevin Lanning nailed a 22-yard field goal with 3:37 remaining that proved to be the difference in the Cougars (6-2, 4-1 NLL) outlasting the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1).
Northview's final possession of the game ended with running back Casey Meridieth fumbling on a fourth-and-inches play inside the Wildcats' own 30-yard line with 2:34 left in the game. Southview took possession and proceeded to run out the clock to seal the victory.
"We came out here and we had so much inspiration to play," Lanning said. "We got it handed to us against Bowling Green last week, so we had to come out and play today."
Southview coach Jim Mayzes said he presented a challenge to the Cougars to bounce back from the loss to Bowling Green.
"We wanted to get our respect back and we wanted to play for the [Sylvania] city championship," Mayzes said. "I thought they played great defense, most of the time. I'm just so proud of our kids. They played really well."
Southview quarterback Andrew Skeels completed 7 of 12 passes for 187 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wideout Alex Renner during the second quarter to help give the Cougars a 7-3 halftime lead. Skeels, who also played defense and recovered the fumble by Meridieth, completed 6 of 8 passes for 162 yards after halftime to direct the Cougars on two second-half scoring drives.
"I told coach at halftime they were committing only three [rushers] and so I knew I could pass the football," Skeels said. "Coach then asked me what routes did I want run.
"I think they weren't ready for it."
Nevertheless, the Wildats had their opportunities. Meridieth, who finished with 120 yards rushing on 23 carries, seemed to have his way at times running through the Cougars defense in the second half. The NLL's leading rusher and scorer coming into the contest added to his touchdown total by scoring from 1 yard and 6 yards to account for Northview's two touchdowns.
Meridieth gave the Wildcats a 16-14 lead when he recorded his second TD with 8:59 remaining in the fourth quarter.
However, the extra-point attempt by Mike Biniecki was blocked, which would play a role in Northview coming up short in the end. Biniecki booted a 27-yard field goal with just over five minutes remaining in the opening quarter to give Northview a 3-0 lead.
Northview coach Eric Keller expected another close contest between the Wildcats and Cougars.
"You have to give them credit they executed their offense pretty well," Keller said of Southview. "They didn't make mistakes. They had a lot of penalties but that's how they play, they're aggressive.
"Like last year, this year the same thing happened. We made mistakes and they didn't."
Nonetheless, Keller explained all is not lost for the Wildcats.
"This game is over and we can never get it back. We can still be co-league champions if we win the next two games," Keller said.
The opening drive of the game by Northview established how the game would be played early on before the packed house. Quarterback Mike Schneider guided the Wildcats on a 14-play drive that covered 74 yards. But the nearly seven-minute drive stalled. Northview didn't come up empty as Biniecki finished the drive off with a 27-yard field goal.
Southview, which had possession of the football for only eight plays in the first quarter, eventually found some success moving the football against Northview's hard-hitting defense in the second quarter.
The Cougars, taking advantage of good field position, used their first possession of the second quarter to take the lead. Skeels connected with Renner on a third-and-20 play for the 25-yard TD completion to give the Cougars a 7-3. Renner, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, pulled in the pass over the outstretched hands of Northview cornerback Matt Page, a 5-5 junior.