Two years ago, Imhotep Charter became the first Philadelphia Public League school to compete for a PIAA state football championship.
The Panthers, however, were throttled, 41-0, in the Class AA title game by District 7's South Fayette. Last season, Imhotep fell again, 42-34, in the Class AAA District 12 final against eventual state champion Archbishop Wood.
"It's a process," said coach Albie Crosby, who is in his fourth season. "That's the best thing I can say about it. . . . It's just one of those things where that wasn't our time."
Imhotep hopes Friday night at Hersheypark Stadium will finally be its time.
The Panthers (14-0, 6-0) will face District 10's Cathedral Prep (13-1) at 7 p.m., and instead of burying the past, they will bring it with them.
"My sophomore year, I was happy because a lot of teams didn't get to make it that far and we did, so we took it for granted," senior running back and linebacker Mike Waters said. "This year's team, knowing that we've lost, we've just gotten wiser and smarter and willing to learn and see the bigger picture."
Perhaps that is part of the aforementioned process.
"That team in 2013, it was like, 'Wow, we're going to Hershey,' " Crosby said. "This year's team is like, 'All right, we're in Hershey.' "
Since Crosby took over in 2012, the Panthers have gone 24-0 in regular-season league play, 54-6 overall, and collected four Public League titles (two in AA, two in AAA).
During that span, the Panthers have beaten league teams by a combined score of 1,877-234.
That margin includes a 2-0 forfeit win against Del-Val Charter in 2013 and a 40-0 win this season against High School of the Future, which requested the game be halted in the first quarter because of the lopsided nature.
However, the disappointments - not the dominance - are what fuel this pack of Panthers.
"I just remember everybody getting tight because we were beating people like crazy that year and nobody ever hit back at us," senior offensive lineman Yasir Durante said of the 2013 finale. "I just remember everybody getting uptight and Coach trying to calm everybody down."
If Imhotep is indeed the team with experience now, Cathedral Prep, by contrast, is relatively inexperienced at key positions.
Joe Mischler, the Ramblers' starting quarterback, is a sophomore who has thrown for 1,214 yards and 19 touchdowns in eight games this season. He has been hobbled recently by hamstring injuries after injuring his collarbone earlier this season.
Sophomore linebacker Matthew Bauer is a leader on the defensive side, and Ta'Nauz Gregory is a senior running back with 1,039 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.
For Imhotep, Durante, a 6-foot-7, 335-pounder, will help pave the way for Waters. His 42 touchdowns are tied for most in city history for a single season. Waters already holds the city's single-season rushing touchdown record with 39.
"This would be for everybody at Imhotep who wanted to make it there," Durante said. "We'll just try to do something they couldn't do and hope they feel like they accomplished it as a family because there are a lot of alums that will be there this weekend."