Columbia and Gibault are meeting in the Class 1A Columbia Soccer Sectional semifinals Wednesday, but it wouldn't matter if it was a summer pick-up match in the park.
Players, coaches and fans all know each other well and the elite programs have developed an intense rivalry over the years to the point where something dramatic typically decides each match.
Gibault (14-4-4) will be trying to avenge a previous loss to Columbia (21-2) when the teams meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
"It's intense every year," said Gibault coach Matt Reeb, whose team lost 2-1 to Columbia on Sept. 17. "This is my third year at Gibault; my first year they ended our season and last year we ended their season, so it seems like it always comes down to one of us ending the other one's season."
First-year Columbia coach Jason Mathenia is in his first year of the rivalry, but the former Belleville West coach caught on quickly.
"I had no idea how strong that rivalry was until we played them about a month ago," said Mathenia, whose team beat Gibault 2-1 on Sept. 17. "I could not believe the number of people that were out on both sides of the field. I've never had an entire fan section -- student body and everything -- storm the field after the final whistle. That was a definitely a first in my experience."
Since losing a tournament game to Springfield (Mo.) Catholic 2-1 at home on the eighth round of penalty kicks, the Eagles have won six straight via shutouts, outscoring the opposition 21-0.
Columbia has allowed just 11 goals all season.
Senior all-state goalkeeper Eddie Starr has 14 of the team's 18 shutouts and shared in the other four. With a scholarship offer from Kentucky and interest from numerous schools, Starr has allowed just nine goals in 22 games with 129 saves.
Columbia's high-scoring offense also has impressive numbers led by all-state Matthew Roderick (St. Louis area-leading 35 goals, nine assists), all-state Brigham Young recruit and former U.S. Soccer Development team player Andrew Dossett (20 goals, 14 assists) , Quinten Spivey (12 goals, 19 assists) and Kyle Gudeman (12 goals, 12 assists).
The lockdown defensive backfield is led by center back Sam Harres, Matt Pelt, Noah Baumann and Ian Cannon.
"Things happen in rival games and they definitely happen in the playoffs," Mathenia said. "Our approach is let's play consistent, limit our mistakes as we have through the entire season, and play together as a tam. Hopefully everything else falls into place."
Columbia lost to Springfield Catholic on penalty kicks and suffered its only other defeat to Seckman High from Arnold, Mo., in sudden-death overtime.
Several Gibault starters, including top scorers Mitch Meyer (15 goals, nine assists), all-stater Andrew Reinholz (12 goals, three assists), Tyler Enright (six goals, 11 assists) and Wes Degener (six goals, four assists), were part of the Hawks' state championship baseball team last spring.
"It's just the athletic experiences they've had," Reeb said. "Some of them are three-sport athletes that have been through so many different situations and must-win games, so it has to help."
Reeb said one key move has Reinholz, an all-state player who had 12 goals in the first six games, moving to center back replacing Zac Epplin. Epplin has been out since being diagnosed with cancer early this season.
"Andrew's very experienced back there and actually plays center back for his club team," Reeb said.
Harrisburg (10-10-2) vs. Althoff (13-4-3), 7 p.m.
Althoff has won four straight since a 3-0 loss to Gibault on Oct. 3, including back-to-back 1-0 shutouts over Wood River and Marquette to win the Marquette Regional.
It was Althoff's second victory over Marquette this season and should give the Crusaders some momentum heading into their semifinal game with Harrisburg.
"They were pretty proud of their effort and I would hope that would carry over," Althoff coach Joe Burchett said. "We've had our ups and downs, too. We got pummeled by O'Fallon and then turned around and beat Belleville West. It depends which team is going to show up that day."
Harrisburg got three second-half goals in a 4-2 win over Carlyle to win the Central Regional championship.
Sophomore Donovan Gagen leads Althoff with 27 goals this season after netting 17 as a freshman.
"I think he'll be fine, but it won't take them long to know they can't just mark Donovan," said Burchett, whose team also has eight goals from Hayden Buss, six from Shawn Robinson and five from Nick Harper. "Donovan does have sort of a knack for finding ways to score the goals, but the reality is that there's four other guys that can really threaten and will be a thorn in somebody's side."
Althoff goalkeeper Kody Turner is 9-3-2 with four shutouts.
Against the other sectional teams, Althoff lost 3-0 to Gibault and did not play Columbia.
Harrisburg's top scoring threats are James Curtis, Carver Gregg and Anfernee Houston and the Bulldogs' goalkeeper is Dylan Butler.