Joseph Gillespie knows it. So does Tim Buchanan.

Thousands of fans already know it as well.

When Stephenville and Aledo square off at Tarleton Memorial Stadium Friday night, it will very likely be the first of two meetings between the perennial 4A powers. And the second - if indeed the teams meet again in round two or four of the 4A Division II playoffs - will be much more meaningful.

"It's big because it's our first game, and of course, it's big because of who we're playing," said Gillespie, head coach at Stephenville. "But you already get the feeling there will be a bigger one down the road."

Buchanan, the head coach of two-time defending 4A Division II champ and top-ranked Aledo, agrees.

"If we take care of our business and they take care of their's the way both of us should, we'll see each other again," Buchanan said in a Tuesday morning phone interview.

The two head coaches aren't being presumptuous in saying there could be a playoff rematch; they speak from experience.

Friday's meeting marks the fourth consecutive season opener between the teams, and they met again in the playoffs after each of the last two.

There was the 26-23 Aledo overtime victory in an area round contest at Cowboys Stadium in 2009, after which the Bearcats won all their remaining playoff games by double figures. Then there was the physical 18-10 Aledo win in the state quarterfinals at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium last fall.

"It's been kind of a springboard game for us," said Buchanan. "That's a compliment to Stephenville. The last two years, whoever won state was going to have to go through Stephenville, we were just fortunate to get through them both times."

Gillespie is all too aware how close to victory his Jackets were in both post season battles.

"We can say what we want about those games, but great teams create their own breaks, and great teams find a way to overcome the breaks that go against them," Gillespie said. "Unfortunately, Aledo has been able to do that just a few more times than we have the last couple years."

Both teams are kicking off brutal pre-district schedules.

Stephenville visits traditional 3A power Abilene Wylie next week then hosts 2010 3A Division II semifinalist Brownwood in a big rivalry game. The Jackets then jump into the 5A ranks, visiting Lewisville Hebron, which was 6-4 last season despite numerous injuries, and Mesquite Horn, which is coming off it's deepest playoff run in school history after reaching the 5A Division II quarterfinals.

"It's a schedule where you could be 1-4 and not look like a very good football team on paper, but turn out to be pretty dang good just like we did last year," said Gillespie, who was an assistant on Stephenville's 1998 and 1999 state title teams and has led the Jackets to the quarterfinals twice in three years as head coach. "If you come out of that 4-1 or 5-0, you're looking at it thinking we're pretty dang good with a chance to be great."

Aledo's non-district slate is shorter because the Bearcats are in an eight-team district. But shorter doesn't necessarily mean easier.

The Bearcats have their Parker County rivalry game against 5A Weatherford next week, followed by their much-anticipated battle with four-time defending 4A Division I champ Lake Travis.

"I learned a long time ago that if you want to do well in the playoffs, you better play good teams early," said Buchanan, who also led Aledo to a 3A championship in 1998. "It's better to have your weaknesses exposed in week one, two or three than it is in week 11, 12 or 13."

That's a fact both coaches will always agree on.

"Win, lose, whatever happens Friday, we need to be better the next Friday against Wylie," Gillespie said. "Then we have to continue that throughout the season. We're not going to look like a state championship team Friday, and that's OK. You don't have to look like a state champion early. But by week nine, 10, 11, you better be gelling."

Buchanan admits he prefers not to face a team twice in a season, but he's also aware how rapidly Stephenville and Aledo have developed one of the region's best football rivalries.

"I'd like to think it's because we're both pretty good," said Buchanan. "It's two good teams from two great programs. Our players and our coaches respect the heck out of their program, and I'm sure (Stephenville) would tell you the same thing about us.

"We may not like each other very much," he continued, "but we respect the heck out of each other."

Respect, however, will likely give way to war on Friday.

"You have to keep in mind there are no district or playoff implications on the line for either team," Gillespie said. "But it's Aledo. I don't know if we've ever wanted to beat someone worse than we want to beat them."