Three years have passed since the Merced College Blue Devils have welcomed Modesto Junior College into Don Odishoo Field at Stadium '76.
The Northern California Football Coaches Association introduced a new scheduling policy for nonleague games last year, which resulted in the annual Merced-Modesto game staying at MJC two straight years.
That ends Saturday night at 6 o'clock, when the Pirates motor down Highway 99 to meet the Blue Devils to open the 2013 season.
"We're going in blind. The word on the street is that Merced has changed everything," MJC coach Sam Young said. "They will have the element of surprise."
Merced leads the series 19-16, but the Pirates have kept the Gateway (To Yosemite) Trophy five straight years and 11 of the last 13.
In fact, Modesto has scored overpowering wins the last two games 72-26 in 2011 and 51-35 last September. But here is where the Blue Devils find hope: The last time they met Modesto on their turf, they extended the Pirates before falling 21-13 in 2010.
Both teams struggled last year. Merced went 3-7 overall and 1-3 in the Golden Gate Conference. Modesto slumped in Valley Conference action and finished 1-4 and 4-6.
Regardless of the records, the Merced-Modesto renewal always promises hard hitting and intense competition. The players often know each other from their high school years, and their familiarity sometimes sparks fireworks.
Though the Pirates haven't lost to Merced since 2005, they guard against overconfidence.
"We try to treat all our opponents the same in that we focus more on our effort level," Young said. "The game never changes. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes has the best chance to win."