It may look like a first-round high school football playoff game tonight, but for many around these parts of Butler County, it’s known as the “Route 4 Rematch.”
That happens when two traditional sports rivals – Hamilton and Fairfield – have their high school campuses less than 10 miles apart, their cities linked by the Ohio 4 roadway and have already played a close, hard-fought battle in the regular season.
The crowd at Fairfield Alumni Stadium for today’s 7 p.m. game could be near 8,000 for the hottest prep football ticket in years.
Both Greater Miami Conference Division I schools are abuzz with excitement for this rematch.
Hamilton hasn’t played in the state football playoffs since 2010, and the two teams have never met before in Ohio football playoffs.
“Throughout the whole week there has been hype in the school. It’s only the fifth time in school history Hamilton has been to the playoffs,” said senior Luke Mattia, who plays both offense and defense for Hamilton.
“Students and teachers have been talking about it,” said Mattia.
Over at Fairfield High School, senior Kayla Miller said the school environment is electric heading into tonight’s game.
“We are really excited. For the community this is an awesome experience,” Miller said. “We think we have a really good chance of winning this one and moving on (in the playoffs).”
Hamilton lost earlier this regular season to the Fairfield Indians in a close game, 34-27, also played at Fairfield.
The Indians’ higher seeding in the playoffs allows them to host a home game.
The excitement about the rematch has spread beyond the campuses of the two city high schools, which have among the highest enrollments of any high schools in southwest Ohio.
Hamilton High School Principal John Wilhelm said tickets were selling fast Thursday and the school has printed up special football playoff T-shirts.
“Our community is going to turn out and the students are very excited,” Wilhelm said. “It’s been since 2010 since we last qualified for the Division I (football) playoffs so there is a buzz in the building.”
Plus, he added, Fairfield is a neighboring school district.
“It’s a very healthy competition we have with Fairfield. Our students know who they are and they know us and there is a lot of community interaction between Fairfield and Hamilton,” said Wilhelm.
Aaron Blankenship, Fairfield’s athletic director, described Fairfield’s nearly perfect season – only a single loss to GMC powerhouse Colerain High School – as thrilling the entire school district community, which includes both the city of Fairfield and Fairfield Twp.
“It’s just a fun time to be in Fairfield,” he said. “You go into local stores, out at restaurants and talking to alumni coming into town and it’s just great time and a great season for our community.”
“Friday night is a great opportunity to showcase just what’s great about Fairfield but also to showcase what’s great about this area with Hamilton right next door to us,” said Blankenship. “Hopefully, it’s a great crowd (tonight), two great teams and two great communities coming together.”
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