Arundel’s offense is always tough to handle, but the Wildcats’ defense will be put to the test by Meade quarterback DJ Pate and the Mustangs. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

When Meade High School opened in 1977, it also welcomed Jerry Mears, one of the best football coaches in Anne Arundel County history.

Mears had recently led Arundel to a 1975 state title and was revered as both a coach and athletic director. His abrupt decision to leave the Wildcats and move five miles north to Meade sparked a rivalry between the two schools that still exists today.

Nobody understands this history quite like Arundel Coach Chuck Markiewicz, who played under Mears at Arundel and eventually coached with him at Meade. As the years have passed, Markiewicz has watched the rivalry evolve, from Mears’ death during the 1988 football season to the creation of the Mears Cup in his honor.

“For years, that was more a rivalry between the coaches than it was between the players. It was really intense,” Markiewicz said. “It went back and forth for a long, long time. . . . There’s a lot of past history, and I kind of was right at the beginning of it.”

The Mears Cup will again be up for grabs Friday night, when the 11th-ranked Mustangs travel to Arundel for a unique chapter in the county’s best rivalry.

The Wildcats have won 11 straight regular-season meetings between the two teams dating to 2001, but this year’s matchup will have a little extra meaning. While the Mustangs have already clinched the No. 2 seed in the Maryland 4A East region playoffs, Arundel will get in with a win. (The Wildcats could also still make the playoffs if they lose and several other results fall their way.)

“It’s not so much pressure. I think there’s just an added focus,” Arundel quarterback Anthony Messenger said. “There’s a lot more intensity in practice this week. People are just going a lot harder. It really means something.”

Meade Coach Rich Holzer didn’t know much about the rivalry when he took over the program three years ago, but he understands the nuances of rivalries. Holzer, his father and his grandfather all participated in the same New York high school football rivalry between White Plains and Archbishop Stepinac, which dates to the 1920s.

Holzer has heard countless stories from coaches and alumni of Mears’ love for his players. Meade assistant coach Scott Harmon, who played under Mears in the 1980s, tried to convey those feelings in a speech to the team before practice Wednesday.

“I think it’s a meaningful game for the kids, the community and most of all, for the alumni and family of Coach Mears,” Holzer said. “It’ll be fun to go out there and put on a good game, especially knowing what Coach Mears stood for.”

Arundel (7-2) will try to push the pace and spread the ball around the field, a familiar strategy that worked to perfection in a 47-8 win last week against Chesapeake. Meade running back Kyle Evans, who left last week’s win over Broadneck with a sprained ankle, will be a game-time decision.

After years of staying home while Arundel waltzed into the playoffs, the Mustangs (8-1) find themselves in an ideal but unique situation this season. Though they would love to keep the Wildcats out of the postseason for the first time since 2002, they also don’t want to get too caught up in Friday night’s game with the playoffs just a week away. Holzer said it’s about balance.

“You’ve got to approach it like any other game,” he said. “Obviously it’s a heated rivalry, but you can’t get too caught up in emotion, because emotion doesn’t win football games. It’ll give you the first five minutes of the game, but it won’t sustain you throughout. We just need to make them play our game.”