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There is a lot riding on a classic rivalry game when Clear Lake High School travels to Kelseyville to square off in a critical NCL I football battle Friday at 7:30 p.m.

For starters, the Kelseyville Knights have won four consecutive meetings between the two squads, including a 42-14 drubbing they heaped on the host Cardinals last year. Additionally, with Clear Lake (3-0, 4-1) tied for first place in the NCL I with Middletown, and Kelseyville (2-1, 3-2) in fourth place but in the mix, the game has league title ramifications.

“It’s cool that both teams are in the league race with winning records. It’s been a while since it has been that way,” Kelseyville coach Erick Larsen said. “I’m expecting a barnburner. It should be a fun game; it’s a good rivalry.”

Kelseyville was competitive last season at 5-3 in league and 9-4 overall. The Knights made it to the North Coast Section semifinal round before losing to Fort Bragg.

Clear Lake was 4-4 in league and 5-6 overall last year, but improved over previous years.

“I’m not surprised we are in first place. I think we are a good team. We made progress last year and we are a better team this year,” Clear Lake coach Mark Cory said. “But we are a ‘prove-it’ deal — we have to prove ourselves to people.”

Both teams run a version of the Wing-T offense, but the Cardinals showcase more of a balance — featuring a ground and air attack — while the Knights heavily favor the run.

Clear Lake will be relying on senior quarterback Alex Adams to lead its offense to paydirt. Senior receiver Austin Davis is a deep-ball threat Adams will have at his disposal.

“Clear Lake has a nice misdirection game. We are going to have to be disciplined on defense, stay home and contain Adams at quarterback,” Larsen said. “He is a good scrambler and runs their read-option well.”

The Cardinals will have their hands full with Kelseyville’s ground game, led by senior running back Patrick Mick (over 100 yards rushing each of the past two games) and junior Jordi Lopez.

“We will definitely have eight guys on the line of scrimmage on defense. Kelseyville can throw the ball, but they would much rather line up and knock you backwards,” Cory said. “For us, stopping the run is the key.”

One advantage Clear Lake has is on the front lines, where Cory said some of the Cardinal linemen have more than a 100-pound advantage against his defenders.

“We are small on our lines and a little thin. We are small but we have quick, physical kids this year,” Larsen said. “As with any football game, it will come down to who controls the line of scrimmage.”

Kelseyville has an advantage with a deeper roster, especially at the skill positions.

“Kelseyville has talented players and good speed. They are a little bit deeper than us,” Cory said. “But we have a lot of returning starters on our team. We are a year older and a year better. That experience might come in handy.”

Both coaches said they expect a full house.

“I heard it is supposed to be pretty packed on Friday. It will be loud and rowdy, I’m sure,” Cory said. “This is a big game for us. If we win, we will be 4-0 in league, and we haven’t been in that position in quite a while. It would be huge for our program to be in that spot.”

And one other thing if Clear Lake wins: “It is important to break the losing streak against your biggest rival,” Cory said.

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