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Local colleges

at Manchester
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Carl W. Burt Memorial Stadium, North Manchester
Radio: 88.3 FM

Rivalry kicks off year for Thunder, Spartans

– It’s not the Old Oaken Bucket, but Trine and Manchester have created an in-state rivalry.

The Division III foes, separated by 71 miles of northeast Indiana farmland, meet for the ninth time tonight, christening the 2014 season under the lights at Carl W. Burt Memorial Stadium.

Trine has won eight of the nine games, including the past seven, drawing Manchester head coach Shannon Griffith to ponder the rivalry’s status.

“I think it’s a rivalry, but I’m not sure it meets the definition of that right now,” he said.

Fans and players from both teams haven’t wavered – rivalry it is, even if it’s friendly. Griffith and Trine head coach Matt Land have a shared history.

They attended the same high school and college and now coach against one another. It adds another element to an already anticipated matchup.

“We’re really good friends,” Land said. “I look forward to (playing Manchester) every year because I get to see Shannon. You know the team is going be well-coached, well-prepared and tough. It’s a fun one for the Fort Wayne area to be a part of.”

There’s intrigue for this season’s showdown after down years from both programs in 2013. Injuries hijacked seasons with lofty expectations.

Opportunities abound as fall camp commenced, offering renewed hope on both campuses.

“If you put too much emphasis on the past, you aren’t worried about the future,” Griffith said. “Hopefully, our guys use last season as a learning experience.”

The Spartans, 3-7 in 2013, must replace four offensive linemen and their quarterback, a tall task as Land believes Trine’s 2014 defensive line could be the best in his nine years at the school. Manchester will start junior quarterback Logan Haston, though Griffith said a two-quarterback system with Randy Frederick is possible.

Haston threw for 575 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games last season.

“We’re a young football team in the sense that we graduated 20 seniors a year ago,” Griffith said. “We’re going to play four new offensive linemen, so we’re going to have some inexperience up front. But offensively, our skill positions are our strength, from the quarterback position to wideouts to running backs. Hopefully, those spots will aid the development of our offensive line.”

Land is eager to officially put last year’s 4-6 record in the rearview mirror. Tonight is step No. 1. Trine lost 10 games from 2008 to 2012, before last season’s stumble. The 2014 squad is poised to return the Thunder to its previous nine-win average.

Leo graduate Gage Corner is the catalyst on offense, along with senior quarterback Andrew Dee. Corner tallied 62 catches for 915 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.

“The defenses have to do something to take care of him,” Land said. “He’s reliable in that he catches the ball, runs the right routes, is in the spots he’s supposed to be. The quarterbacks can rely on him. He’s a special player. His work ethic is what separates him apart from other people.”