One of the Baton Rouge metro area’s oldest high school football rivalries will be renewed Thursday night.

McKinley seeks two straight wins in its series with Capitol for the first time since 1980-81.

The combination of past history and a drastic reversal of fortunes for the two schools provides a serious backdrop for the nondistrict game set for 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

“It is a unique situation,” McKinley coach Robert Signater said. “The thing about it is, we don’t actually know who or what to prepare for.

“The thing I do know is that this is a rival game. And when it’s Capitol-McKinley, I know anything is possible.”

The Capitol-McKinley game, dubbed the Downtown Showdown, helps highlights a season-opening schedule that also includes St. John of Plaquemine vs. Belaire at Olympia Stadium, Catholic-Pointe Coupee vs. Ascension Episcopal at Lafayette’s Clark Field and the Christian Home Educators Fellowship at Louisiana School for the Deaf.

Capitol leads the series 35-25.

Capitol, part of the State Recovery School District, faced questions all summer about its future. The 100 Black Men previously operated the school, but returned its charter to the state. A merger with Career Academy was also debated before the school was put under state control and re-formed in mid-July.

Once a school of more than 1,000 students as part of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, Capitol started the 2010-11 school year with more than 300 students and ended it with about 200. Capitol now has 217 students after starting with a roll that included 181, according to Principal Onetha Albert.

Just two years removed from a berth in the Class 2A semifinals, first-year Capitol coach Dameion Mills has less than 20 players on his roster.

Capitol, still a Class 2A school, hoped to gain eligibility for nine players in grades 10 through 12 who re-enrolled this fall after leaving the school in the spring to attend other schools amid rumors that the school was closing.

“I can’t fault those kids for trying to put themselves in a better situation, based on the information they had last spring,” Mills said. “They started their careers at Capitol and want the chance to complete their career here.”

However, a Louisiana High School Athletic Association hardship committee denied the appeal by a 4-1 margin on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m very disappointed,” Capitol Athletic Director Alvin Stewart said. “We felt like we had a good grounds for an appeal. But the decision was made, and now we just have to move on.”

By contrast, McKinley is now a Class 5A school and has seen its enrollment swell to more than 1,400 and has over 100 players in its program, including 74 on the varsity squad. The total is the largest in decades.

“Just a few years ago we would have been happy to have 40 or 50 guys on the varsity,” Signater said. “I feel for Dameion. He’s a Capitol guy, and he’s out there trying to do the best he can for his school. You have to admire that. But this is so tough.”

Interestingly, the two head coaches did not meet to swap film until Tuesday. At that time, Signater said he and Mills discussed other recent history.

Last season, after McKinley rallied for a 34-30 win over Capitol at Louisiana Leadership’s Doug Williams Stadium, a postgame altercation broke out, leading to LHSAA fines and suspensions for both schools.

Signater said he and Mills agreed they will shake hands after Thursday’s game, but said their players will not. It’s a proactive approach to prevent any postgame issues this time around.

As polar opposite as the circumstances are, the two coaches share a common goal - to see their squads improve from last week’s jamborees. McKinley lost to Tara, 7-0, while Capitol lost 22-0 to Istrouma.

“We had too many penalties and made too many mistakes,” Signater said. “We played much better in our scrimmage. We have to develop some consistency.”

Mills is now faced with the challenge of developing a freshman-laden roster that got its first varsity experience last week.

“We’ve got babies,” Mills said. “They’re having to learn about playing on the varsity level after playing in middle school last year. And now they’re in the Capitol-McKinley game. And that’s not just any game.”