Football separates itself from virtually every other sport with its sheer physicality.
But the fine line that separates champion from contender often has much more to do with brains than brawn, with having the mental focus to match the physical willingness to seek greatness.
The football programs from Bangor High School and Lawrence of Fairfield will meet in a rare late-season clash of unbeatens at Cameron Stadium tonight — and while the stakes are high it may be what each hopes is merely the prelude for a second meeting deep in the Class A playoffs.
This game has been on each other’s mind since preseason practices began in mid-August.
Sure, both teams were able to devote sufficient concentration to previous opponents to arrive at this matchup at 6-0. But always lingering in the background has been what each perceives to be the eventual clash with the rival each sees as its biggest obstacle to a trip to the state final come Nov. 21.
For Lawrence, this game marks another chance to extend what has been a remarkable run.
The Bulldogs are riding a 35-game regular-season unbeaten streak that dates to their third game of the 2005 season.
After struggling for the better part of a decade, Lawrence finished 6-3 that season — and since then the ’Dogs have owned Eastern Maine Class A.
Lawrence is 37-2 since the start of the 2006 season, with the 2006 state title and regional crowns in both 2006 and 2007 before being upset by Skowhegan in last year’s PTC semifinals.
Included in that run are six straight victories over Bangor — the only other Eastern Maine team to win a Class A state title (2000) under the current three-class football format — including wins over the Rams in both the 2006 and 2007 EM finals.
Most recently, the Bulldogs spotted Bangor first-half leads of 17-0 and 24-7 before holding the Rams scoreless in the second half and rallying for a 27-24 victory in last year’s regular-season meeting.
That game appeared to be a case of mind over matter, as the Bulldogs reflected sheer confidence despite facing those early deficits and got the best of Bangor in the late going.
It may be a similar case of mind over matter that determines Friday night’s matchup, because no Lawrence player has lost to Bangor in a varsity uniform and no Bangor player has walked off the field in celebration after defeating Lawrence in varsity garb.
But it can be done, and no one knows that better than any Lawrence football fan with a sense of recent history.
On Oct. 7, 2005, Bangor jumped out to a 14-0 lead over Lawrence at Keyes Field in Fairfield, but the lead didn’t stand as Lawrence rallied for a 27-14 victory.
To some, that marked the beginning of Lawrence’s current run atop the Pine Tree Conference ranks.
Lawrence had struggled since last winning a regional title in 1996 — ironically with a 35-0 win over Bangor in the Eastern A final.
But the Dogs’ 2005 regular-season victory ended an eight-game Bangor winning streak in the rivalry and signaled that the Bulldogs were back.
Now it’s Bangor that would like to send a similar signal.
Both teams have plenty of talent, so perhaps tonight’s game will come down to execution and physicality.
Or perhaps the ability to thrive during that moment of truth when momentum is wavering will be the difference.
The fortunate thing for both teams is that it is just the regular season, and each will live to play next week — and perhaps meet again.