The Aurora Greenmen football team, its coaching staff and fans likely will lend moral support to the Chardon community when the two teams meet in playoff action tonight at Twinsburg High School.
That's in light of the February tragedy in which a Chardon student shot three students to death and injured two others.
But when it comes to battling it out on the gridiron with the Hilltoppers, the Greenmen aren't likely to show any mercy. They want to move on to the Division II state semifinals for the second year in a row.
Aurora continues to play in memory of teammate Paulie McGhee, who died in a single-car crash last year prior to the state semifinal game against Avon.
"It's kind of -- I don't know if ironic is the right word -- but there is something there about playing them," Aurora head coach Bob Mihalik said.
"Maybe there's some kind of divine intervention. For both schools to have the kind of success they've had this year (after experiencing tragedies) and to be meeting in a game like this, maybe we're getting some help from above."
Chardon, which brings a 10-2 record into the game against Aurora's 11-1, is a traditionally tough football school. It has competed in 34 playoff games (24-10 record) and won the state title in 1994.
However, it hasn't competed in the postseason since 2006.
The regional finals will take place tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Twinsburg Tiger Stadium. The winner moves on to face either Avon or Toledo Central Catholic. Aurora and Avon met in the state semifinals last year.
Last week, Chardon had little trouble with Kenston (7-5), winning 34-15. Aurora also handled the Bombers easily in the final Chagrin Valley Conference regular season game.
Back in the regular season, Chardon beat Kenston only by one point.
The Hilltoppers don't pass much, but quarterback T.J. Benenati is a lot like Aurora's George Bollis -- a good rusher. He gained 155 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown last week. He completed one of his two passes to Andrew Gray for a touchdown.
Matt Bolden is a tough running back, who gained 115 yards on 26 carries. Chardon has a number of backs who can gain yardage. Last week, seven of them piled up 342 yards.
Alex Muir and Reilly Hawkins scored Chardon's other touchdowns, while Bobby Bukevec kicked two field goals.
After last week's game, Chardon coach Mitch Hewitt noted that his players are tough "and have been through a lot in the last eight months," referring to the shootings at the school.
Aurora has posted considerably more points offensively than Chardon -- 40.5 to 31 per game -- while they both have given up an average of 15 per contest.
"Chardon has a very potent running game, but they attack differently than New Philadelphia," said Mihalik. "We didn't do a good job of stopping the run against New Philly, so it will be a challenge."
The Hilltoppers' defense also is good at stopping the run.
"Teams haven't had much success running against them," Mihalik said. "It's going to be strength verses strength. I really don't know what to expect."
About having experience in the regional final, Mihalik said, "I think it does make a difference. We have a lot of players who played last year and a lot who were on the sidelines. I think it helps they were there, knowing our routine and what to expect."