The Lincoln-Sudbury High School Warriors football team kicks off the 2011 season Saturday at 2:30 p.m. when they visit the Tewksbury Redmen.
Last year, the Warriors made the Division 1A playoffs out of the Dual County League-Large division with a record of 8-4, while the Redmen finished 5-6 in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
The Warriors return 15 lettermen and are ranked 15th in the Boston Globe preseason poll, while the Redmen only return five lettermen.
All signs point to a victory for the Warriors, right?
Not necessarily. If you're a veteran head coach like L-S's Tom Lopez, you know there's no guarantees in this game. And while scouting Tewksbury in a scrimmage against Gloucester - the same Gloucester team that defeated Lincoln-Sudbury in the playoffs last year - they found a team that belies a 5-6 record.
"Tewksbury looked very good," Lopez said. "They play a very aggressive style of football. We need to be aggressive and avoid mistakes to be successful."
One Redmen player to look out for is versatile senior Kevin Saunders. Saunders will see duty as quarterback, safety, and even on special teams, which should indicate his athleticism and big-play potential.
Tewksbury, however, is inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front, which could lead to a big day for the three-headed backfield of Matt Cahill, Chris Giorgio, and Brian Carroll.
"They're not quite as big as they were last year but they're more athletic up front," said Tewksbury High football coach Brian Aylward. "They've got three or four backs that all run hard, a good corps of receivers and a quarterback that had a tremendous season after we saw him last year."
Ironically, much of the same could be said about the Redmen, and Saunders this fall. Bettano started in the backfield as a junior for much of last season, and Saunders started several games in both his sophomore and junior years, filling in for injured QB Sean Connolly.
"Saunders has worked very hard to get ready for this season," Aylward said. "He does the little things better and better every day. He's as tough a kid as we've got and he's as big a hitter as we've got. Having a kid that rugged as your quarterback is a luxury."
Bettano, likewise, is ready to step into the spotlight this fall, according to Aylward.
"He's going to be the guy that takes the lion's share of the touches based on everything he's done in the off season and the preseason," Aylward said.
Much of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of senior offensive guards Derek Tarpey and Ryan Eatherton, who have both looked strong in the pre-season.
"Those two guys are the keys to our offense," Aylward said. "We're going to have to get them out and use their athleticism and quickness and toughness to be able to be effective on offense.
"A lot of what we do is based on having two solid, strong kids that can run (at the guard positions)," Aylward added. "Those two fit that mold. They're growing into one of the best tandems of guards we've had since I've been here."
This will be the fourth straight opening-day meeting between the two schools. Lincoln-Sudbury won the first game in 2009, but Tewksbury has beaten the Warriors in each of the last two years.