In reality, it means no more and no less than last week's game. Or next week's. They all count the same in the standings.
That said ... Hampton vs. Phoebus is clearly different.
If you called it the best rivalry in Virginia high school football, you'd get few arguments. And though each team already has played a down-to-the wire finish — the Phantoms beat Woodside on a last-second field goal; the Crabbers beat Bethel in overtime — this is always the Game of the Year in the Peninsula District.
Even the coaches, who do their best to downplay the rivalry all week, acknowledge that.
"Oh, sure," Hampton's Mike Smith said. "I'm sure there's been a lot more buzz at the shipyard and the barber shop and the streets this week."
"Whenever you get an opportunity to play in a game like this," Phoebus' Stan Sexton said, "if you're worth your weight, you get excited about it."
Phoebus (7-0, 6-0) has won 27 consecutive district games, the third-longest streak behind Hampton's 32 from 1980-84 and 28 from 1995-98. Not surprisingly, the Crabbers were the last PD team to beat the Phantoms — 35-10 on Oct. 20, 2006.
Hampton (5-2, 4-2) is in a three-way tie for third place, which itself creates an anomaly. The last time these teams met with at least a two-game difference in the standings was 1997. Hampton was 7-0, Phoebus 5-3.
But Sexton, who played in this game as a Phoebus lineman in 1981 and '82 (both 21-0 losses), knows better than to dismiss Hampton. Last week, he saw the Crabbers rally to beat Bethel despite playing far from their best.
"They've done a great job over there," he said. "Coach Smith, Coach (Danny) Mitchell, Coach (Alvis) Mann, all of those guys. I would say this has been one of their best coaching jobs."
Sexton has been impressed by Hampton's Dion Futch, a receiver/cornerback/return man who has scored 12 touchdowns five different ways. Futch missed the final 3 1/2 quarters of last week's win with a sprained ankle, but Sexton is certain he'll be out there for tonight's 40th game of the series.
"I'll tell you what: Until I see him standing on the sidelines in street clothes, I'm assuming he's playing," he said. "He's a tough player."
Smith expects Futch to play.
"It's swollen and tender, but he's a pit bull," he said earlier this week. "He'll be there. He'll come to play."
The Crabbers have had trouble stopping Phoebus' power running game the past three games, and Smith knows that could be an issue tonight. Phantoms tailback Colby Goodwyn is averaging 151 yards a game, 8.4 yards per carry, and has scored 17 touchdowns.
"He's a very good runner," Smith said. "He's got good vision and he plays hard."
As for the rivalry, Hampton won 24 of the first 26 games (one of the losses was a forfeit). But since 2001, Phoebus has an 8-5 advantage. A victory tonight would give the Phantoms their first four-game winning streak in this series.
"They've made it a rivalry," Smith said. "We might have been everybody's rival at one time or another, but certainly they've added significance to it by becoming a stronger program. They've won some games and won some championships."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times