At first glance, East Ridge and Lake Minneola appear to be football programs headed in opposite directions.

For example, the Knights take a 2-2 record into Thursday's matchup with the rival Hawks, while Lake Minneola is 0-4 and struggling to overcome myriad injuries.

Records, however, mean nothing when rivals meet and that’s why both coaches have prepared for the other as if the game was a contest between unbeaten programs. It might have that feeling anyway, particularly since it will be televised on Bright House Sports Network, but Lake Minneola coach Walter Banks and his counterpart at East Ridge, Ashour Peera, have treated it as they would any other game on the schedule.

“To me, it doesn’t matter that East Ridge is our rival and its a district game,” said Banks. “It’s a big game for us because its a chance to compete and win. We’re still trying to fill a lot of holes, especially on the offensive side of the ball, so we have to be ready to play each week.

“We can’t afford to overlook anyone and we certainly aren’t looking past East Ridge.”

Said Peera, ”This is a big game for us because it can get us back on track for our district. That’s all we are worried about. We lost a big district game last week against Ocoee and we can’t afford another loss.”

Peera believes the Knights still can control their postseason destiny with a win. Class 7A-District 4 is a seven-team league, which means one loss might not be crippling.

Particularly if East Ridge can run the table. A second loss, however, could make things very tough on the Knights.

“I feel like we are in the driver’s seat,” Peera said. “Even though we lost to Ocoee last week, we’re in the playoffs as long as we take care of business the rest of the way. And that starts tonight with Lake Minneola.

“For us, the rivalry mentality of (today’s) game takes away from the task at hand.”

Banks also is downplaying the rivalry aspect.

“Every game is big for us,” Banks said. “We’re in a deep hole, but we’re still battling. We’re getting better as our players grow more accustomed to our system. It was very tough when so many of our skill-position players went down early, but I feel the kids are starting to grasp what we’re doing. We’re going to run the ball almost 100 percent of the time, even if they stack the box against us.

“That’s what we do right now and we’ve gotten pretty good at it.”

East Ridge has rolled up nearly 1,100 yards in four games. Its best effort on the offensive side of the ball was a 366-yard game on Sept. 16 in a 52-14 win against South Lake.

Junior quarterback BeSean McCray has passed for 490 yards and thrown six touchdowns without an interception. McCray’s favorite receive has been David Shannon, who has 15 catches and three scoring receptions.

Simmian Mitchell is the Knights’ top running back with 329 yards, including a 71 yarder. McCray is second with 184 yards and he has also run for four touchdowns.

Despite losing a day of preparation, both coaches also are happy the game is being played on a Thursday instead of being a more traditional Friday clash. The lack of competition, in terms of other area games being played, might give the attendance a boost.

Playing on a Thursday also cuts down on off-the-field distractions for players, which should help to improve on-field execution.

“I’d like to play on Wednesday every week,” Banks said, almost tongue in cheek. “A lot of the time, we’re ready to play by Wednesday or Thursday of each week. Our players are ready to go and so are the coaches. We've had a good short week of practice, even though we’ve had to deal with a lot distractions because the game is being televised and there are some things we have to do with the network.

“If we had a wait until Friday to play, I don’t think we would be as sharp as I think we’ll be (today).”