Sunday's nationally televised football game between Wheaton Warrenville South and Glenbard West high schools was the first game of the season for both schools, but it felt like a state championship was on the line.
The longtime DuPage County rivals clashed before a raucous crowd on a picture-perfect afternoon at Wheaton's Red Grange Field. When it was over, the visiting Hilltoppers from Glenbard were 21-7 victors.
In the stands, emotions reached feverish levels on both sides. Supporters of the home Tigers wore orange shirts that said "Here We Go Again," a reference to the team's two straight state titles. Glenbard fans wore white shirts that said "It Starts Now" -- a statement of confidence that this will be their team's year to celebrate.
Adding to all the excitement was the fact that ESPN2 was airing the game as part of the network's 2011 High School Kickoff.
"This is just awesome," Warrenville resident and Tigers fan Bryan Phelan said shortly before kickoff. "Two great teams with all this history. It should be a great game."
Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South have battled each other on the gridiron for nearly a century. The rivalry has intensified in recent years, with South defeating Glenbard in the 2009 state championship game and last year's state quarterfinal game.
"I think we're battling for a little of 'what could have been,'" said Glenbard fan Kit Tjelle, whose son Nick Garland is a junior at the school and an offensive lineman on the team. "It hurt to lose those games, but I think this is the year when we make up for that."
Eric Cruz and J.J. Bell, both seniors at South, said the game's two starting quarterbacks added some extra juice to the emotion on and off the field Sunday.
Glenbard's Justice Odom played at South before transferring last year. And Thaddeus Armstrong, South's starting quarterback, was making his debut with the team after moving to Wheaton from Ottawa.
"(Odom) used to play here," Cruz said. "And seeing him as (Glenbard's) quarterback gives our team a little bit more motivation, you know?"
Warrenville resident Rubin Marin, whose son is a sophomore football player at South, said Sunday's game summed up everything he loved about high school football.
"It's a great day, we're playing a top team, it just feels great being here," he said. "This is just the first game of the season, but there's so much excitement. I love it."