Now, strangely, it comes to this.
The Douglas High football team travels to Carson High Thursday for a 7 p.m. game that will determine who keeps playing into the postseason and who will see their season end.
It's a far cry from earlier in the season, when it appeared Thursday night's game would ultimately decide the Sierra League champion.
Douglas (3-5, 0-3) went 3-1 to open the year, beating High Desert League powers Reno and McQueen to rise to No. 1 in the Northern Division I rankings. Carson (4-4, 0-3) opened up 4-1, beating Reed and Reno.
Then league play opened up and both teams, for various reasons, saw their success dry up.
Douglas was gashed on defense in a 57-43 loss to Galena, which has since clinched the Sierra League title and Damonte Ranch escaped with a 47-46 win on a controversial series of plays at the end of the game.
Then the Tiger defense had its best night of the year against Manogue, but the Tigers' high-octane offense slowed down, getting held to a season low two-touchdowns in a 37-21 loss (the Douglas defense added a late touchdown). Complicating matters, Michael Nolting - the school's all-time leader in both passing and total offense --was knocked out of the game with an apparent concussion.
Carson, on the other hand, suffered its own last-second heartbreaks after missing a last-second field goal vs. Damonte Ranch and after getting a late touchdown called back on a penalty against Manogue.
In between those losses, Galena steamrolled the Senators 42-0.
"Carson has had some rough spots, mostly due to injury," Douglas coach Ernie Monfiletto said. "The kids starting now are a little different than they had at the beginning of the year. At times they have struggled like us. We are very similar in that regard."
Now, while the stakes for the annual rivalry showdown are among the highest they've ever been.
"The opportunity to go to the playoffs will present itself, but I think we have the same goal in mind regardless of what is at stake, and that is to beat the Carson Senators," Monfiletto said. "I just believe if you have a rival, it needs to be your main goal to beat your rival.
"That's our goal, we want to put ourselves back in the win column."
The rivalry has slanted back in Carson's favor over the past three seasons after Douglas rattled off seven consecutive victories over the Senators between 2002 and 2008.
Carson won the 2009 meeting in Carson City 34-6 with the Sierra League title on the line, and then escaped on a last-second field goal in both 2010 (16-13 in overtime) and 2011 (31-29). Carson leads the all-time series 46-21-3.
"We've suffered a number of heartbreak situations with Carson the past couple of years, but the kids are intent on reversing that," Monfiletto said. "There is a great maturity among the kids. We saw great growth defensive against Manogue. Although we stepped back on offense, I'm confidence the offense will get back on track this week. It we can put the two things together, we can compete with anybody."
While Carson is coming in off the loss to Manogue on Friday with just three days to prepare for Douglas while the Tigers are coming off a bye-week.
"It (the bye) can work one of two ways if you aren't winning," Monfiletto said. "It can belabor the fact, or it can give you an opporunity to regroup. I firmly believe the kids have regrouped. Their whole heart is into beating the Carson Senators."
The game presents contrasting styles in virtually every facet of the game.
Carson averages only 283.6 yards per game on offense while the Tiger defense has given up an average of 439.5 yards per game. The Senators have only scored three touchdowns on offense during all of league play, while the Douglas defense, in one of its better efforts of the year, surrendered four touchdowns to Manogue alone.
The Senators employ a varied run game with five ball carriers who have at least 20 carries and 100 yards. Sophomore Colby Brown has led the way with 111 carries for 628 yards and five touchdowns.
Carson can also run two different quarterbacks in. Junior Garrett Schafer has taken the majority of the snaps and completed 48 percent of his passes for 941 yards. Senior Matt Nolan has completed 19 of 38 passes for 195 yards. He generally lines up in the slot, giving the Senators a variety of wildcat options. He's carried 48 times for 196 times and caught 15 passes for 135 yards. Fullback Joey Thurman is the team's top receiver with 26 catches for 453 yards.
Conversely, Douglas' offense has been the most potent in Northern Nevada all year, rolling up 472.5 yards a game while featuring the most prolific passer (Nolting) and rusher (Conner Peterson) in school history. Senior wide receiver Dusty Fisher is within striking distance of taking over the school records for career receptions and career receiving yards.
The wildcard will be whether or not Nolting is cleared to play coming off the injury. He is completing 74 percent of his passes on the season with 2,011 yards and 20 touchdowns. He's also run for 409 yards and six touchdowns.
Wes Hundley got his first extended varsity action against Manogue in Nolting's absence and completed two passes for 33 yards, carrying an additional seven times for 36 yards.
Senior running back Conner Peterson has been all over the field for the Tigers, running for 1,173 yards and 14 touchdowns with a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. He's also completed a touchdown pass and is the team's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Dusty Fisher had 60 catches for 1,090 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Carson has been strong on defense, giving up 316.57 yards and 25.1 points per game.
"They play really good defense," Monfiletto said. "Bob Bateman was our coordinator for a long time and he's back home at Carson now. He does a great job with prep, figuring out tendencies, what we like to do, and coming up with ways to attack it. They run a pretty strong four-man front. It'll be a challenge."
Carson has been to the regional playoffs in each of the last three seasons while Douglas has not missed the playoffs since 2000, a stretch of 11 consecutive qualifications. One of those streaks will end Thursday night.