The Cardinals have the bragging rights but the Tigers have the ring.
What is turning into one of the better Texoma rivalries will embark on another chapter with two of the best teams in Class 3A getting together.
Pottsboro and Gunter have met every year since 2012 but this is by far the most anticipated match-up. The defending 3A-II state champ Tigers will try to avenge their only loss last season while the Cardinals, the 3A-I runner-up from a year ago, are trying to become the only team that has been able to topple Gunter twice during the last five seasons.
The early-season measuring stick comes with Gunter (1-0) traveling to Pottsboro (1-0) for the non-district clash at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
"You’ve got to embrace what it is," Pottsboro head coach Matt Poe said. "Every year it’s been a game between two really good programs. We learn about ourselves. Whether you win or lose the game, you’re going to learn about your strengths and your weaknesses. That’s why we play every year."
The Tigers enter the match-up ranked as the No. 1 team in Class 3A Division II while the Cardinals sit at No. 3 in the Class 3A Division I statewide poll.
"It’s always been a big game because they’re always good. Pottsboro’s been one of the best programs in the state and definitely one of the best in the area," Gunter head coach Jake Fieszel said. "In my mind it’s a really great match-up because if you have the right perspective, you’re going to get a lot from this game."
Going into last year’s contest, Gunter had won five of the six meetings and posted back-to-back shutouts before Pottsboro earned the 27-14 victory in Week 2. It is the only loss by the Tigers in their last 44 regular season games and the Cardinals carried that confidence all the way to A&T Stadium before losing 42-35 against defending 3A-I champ Grandview in the title game and finishing with a 15-1 record and the best season in school history.
"We knew we beat a really good team," Poe said. "The kids were already confident. Not that they were lacking before but a little extra boost didn’t hurt."
Gunter rebounded to win its final 14 games and claim its second 3A-II crown in four seasons, a stretch that saw the Tigers go 60-3.
Both teams had little trouble in their season-openers — Pottsboro picked up a 42-13 victory against Community while Gunter earned a 48-7 victory over Van Alstyne.
For the Cardinals, they overcame a sluggish start that saw them tied at six with the Braves following the first quarter before holding a 35-6 lead at half-time.
Braden Plyler had a hand in all six touchdowns as he completed 14-of-24 passes for 217 yards and two scores and also ran 15 times for 113 yards and four touchdowns — three of those in the second quarter and two in the final minute, including as the half expired — while Titus Lyons totaled seven catches for 100 yards and two TDs and Cooper Townsley finished with 23 carries for 120 yards and caught three passes for 39 yards.
Community managed just 189 yards, including 81 yards on 21 carries, and the 108 passing yards were on the only two completions — which also happened to account for both touchdowns.
"Outside of that we played really good defense. Slow start. Not having that second scrimmage hurt us," Poe said. "We woke up and did what we were supposed to."
For the Tigers, they ended up needing a replacement for their first game after a match-up with Sunnyvale was in jeopardy based on initial coronavirus restrictions. Van Alstyne was in the same boat with Dallas Life Oak Cliff and so they decided to push back their scrimmage, make it a game and solve the problem.
Gunter held a touchdown lead after the first quarter and was up 27-0 at half-time. Hudson Graham completed 12-of-13 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, Cole Lemons had seven receptions for 124 yards and a TD, Ethan Sloan finished with 161 yards from scrimmage (84 receiving, 77 rushing) on nine touchdowns with three scores and the defense held the Panthers to 163 and missed a shutout when VA scored with five minutes remaining.
"We really had a lot of young kids out there that had to prove themselves. We only started one senior on offense and another one on defense," Fieszel said. "We wanted to see some kids step up. We wanted to see our kids play really hard and they did that."
Regardless of what happens on Friday, the bigger goals remain in play. Realignment altered both teams’ districts to varying degrees and they will have new tests as they try to repeat as district champions and earn the top seed for the playoffs.
And once they get to the postseason there will be new obstacles and plenty of foes looking to keep them from a return to the title game.