"I don't like to play close friends," the Boyle coach said. "My first job was with him (as an assistant under French at Mercer County), and we go back a long ways and have a good relationship. "Sometimes in the heat of battle things will happen and feelings get hurt, and I don't want to go there."
The roles of favorite and underdog are crystal clear in this game, just as they have been in Boyle's last two games, and French knows his role.
"We're going to try our hardest and see what we can do," he said. "I think our effort will be there Friday night; the question is whether we can do things right.
"The old man can take his lickings, and he can dish 'em out, too. The good thing is they can't hit me."
Lincoln will be ready
But Smith said he thinks Lincoln is better than Marion County and Taylor County, the teams Boyle has drubbed in the last two weeks.
"They're going to be sound with their alignments and sound with their fundamentals," he said. "There's a big difference between them this year and in the past."
Smith said he knows what French will do to get his team prepared to play Boyle because, well, he knows French.
"Larry was my mentor," Smith said. "He taught me a lot about football when I first started coaching. They'll be very well prepared - they'll know everything that we're going to do - and they'll play hard, physical football."
But the Patriots are not where French wants them to eventually be, and both French and Smith know that.
"He's just now putting his system in," Smith said. "He doesn't have it the way he wants it just yet.
"He wants it right now, and it's not going to happen right now."
French said he knew that when he came to Lincoln last spring.
"We knew from the get-go that this was gonna be a challenging year for everyone, and we went in with that kind of approach," he said. "Our kids have responded pretty good in practice. We've made major strides, but we've still got a long long way to go."
Smith was saying the same thing about Boyle just a few weeks ago, though the context was different. The Rebels lost three of their first five games, but Smith said they are far closer now to being ready for a run at a sixth consecutive state championship.
"I think we've worked extremely hard in practice the last three weeks, and I do think we've made some improvements," he said. "I really want to see those improvements continue when the competition gets better, and the competition gets better this week."
Boyle on a roll
Boyle has won four straight games by an average score of 60-8 and has already clinched the Class AAA, District 4 championship and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"This is really our final tuneup before the playoffs start, and we really want to look sharp and have some momentum going into the playoffs," Smith said.
Lincoln has lost three in a row, but the Patriots could still claim a playoff berth if Marion County beats Taylor County on Friday. Lincoln would win a three-way tie for fourth place and the district's final playoff spot if Marion wins.
"That's not in our hands," French said. "We'd like to be in the playoffs. ... That would be another week to get better, and if we get another week's practice, it's going to help us down the road."
Brandon Smith leads a powerful Boyle offense with 2,063 passing yards, which is 70 more yards than Lincoln's entire offense has generated this season. Running backs Hagen Folger and Braxton Miller lead the Patriots with 518 and 464 rushing yards, respectively, and Jared Long has thrown for 780 yards.
This will be the last meeting between Boyle and Lincoln for the forseeable future. Lincoln leaves the district next year for Class AAAA.
Boyle leads the series 12-10 and has beaten 69-0, 62-0 and 56-7 in the three games since the teams were placed in the same district in 2001.