Perhaps it's a grudge match.

Or maybe it's all about two of the area's best Class 2A quarterbacks going head-to-head.

It may end up being all about two defenses that have at times this year been superb.

Whatever else it's about, the match-up between Hico and Dublin tonight is all about the state playoffs.

The winner is likely in.

The loser will need a win and some help next week to have a shot.

Hico (6-2, 2-1) hosts Dublin (6-2, 2-1) at 7:30 p.m., as both teams battle to stay alive in the fight for second and third place in District 11-2A.

Hico already has a loss to Itasca and faces defending champ and current league-leader Grandview next week. Dublin's scenario is similar, but has developed in reverse, with a loss coming to Grandview and Itasca lying ahead.

Last year, Hico went to Dublin riding the momentum of an upset road win over Itasca, and lost to the Lions. This year, the Tigers need a win especially bad after falling to the Wampus Cats 18-14 last week.

Dublin was thumped hard by Grandview in week one, and lost more than just the game. Derrick Reeder suffered a broken leg, ending his season and kicking off a rash of injuries that have forced players such as Mark Williams to step up for the Lions.

Since the district-opening defeat, Dublin has taken care of business against Rio Vista and Maypearl to set up tonight's showdown.

Hico dominated the Eagles and Panthers in very similar fashion.

Both teams have been led to success by solid quarterback play.

Dublin senior DeWayne Keith was an all-district wide receiver in 2006, and earned the signal-calling duties during the off season.

Keith is looking to surpass the 1,000-yard mark in passing yards tonight. He has thrown for 968 yards and seven touchdowns through eight games, and has also rushed for 641 yards and 10 scores.

Westin Williams, only a sophomore, has been every bit as effective for Hico. Williams has thrown for 1,418 yards and 17 touchdowns. He, too, can also hurt defenses with his feet.

“Fans who come out to the game are in for a good show, Dublin Coach Dwayne Ross predicted. “They will get to see great quarterback play from both teams.

Both stars have the benefit of strong supporting casts.

Hico's Jordan Turner has rushed for 637 yards on 85 carries, while Dublin's Sam Lopez has carried the ball 65 times for 562 yards.

Hico has Corey Needham at wide receiver, and despite losing Derek Reeder, Dublin still poses a threat with sophomore pass catcher Aaron Teague.

Countering the offensive firepower will be a pair of stalwart defensive units. Hico has allowed only 12.3 points per game this fall, and Dublin has surrendered only 16.5 points per game.

Dublin has held five opponents to 10 points or less, while Hico has managed that feat four times. A fifth foe of the Tigers scored only 11.

“Both defenses have shined at times this year, said Ross.

Leading the Tigers defensively has been Andrew Wise. The three-year starter has posted 89 solo tackles and 18 assists. Cade Sklar has collected 68 solo stops while assisting on 17 others, and Sean Shipman also has over 60 solo tackles.

Wesley Leyendekker and Logan Morton have both recorded sever double-digit tackle performances for the Lions, as has Colt Dipple.

Dublin edged Hico 21-14 last fall, but the Tigers got the better end of the deal in the long run. Their combination of victory over Itasca plus tie-breaking statistics was enough to lift them past the Lions in the push for the 2006 playoffs.

This year, with roles being reversed by Hico's loss last week, the annual match-up of neighborly rivals takes on even more importance.

Both schools know that tonight's clash may be the ultimate determining factor in the fate of their 2007 season.

“There's no hiding it, it's big, Ross exclaimed.

“We've tried to keep the same routine all week in practice, but the players know how important it is, concluded Ross. “Come Friday night, it's time to pin the ears back and let it all loose.

Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at brad.keith@empiretribune.com.