The rivalry between the Pinelands Regional and Barnegat high school football teams is talked about on the beaches of Long Beach Island and the shopping centers along Route 72 in Manahawkin.

That's where players from both teams bump into each other all year long.

"These kids have played each other in every sport since middle school," Barnegat coach Rob Davis said. "It's a good rivalry."

The rivalry began when Barnegat started to play varsity football in 2006. The teams meet for the fourth time at 7 p.m. today in a Shore Conference National Division game at Barnegat. Barnegat leads the series 2-1.

"Pinelands probably knows more about our players than we do and vice versa," Davis said.

That's what makes the game special. Barnegat and Pinelands rarely get to play a neighborhood rival. Most of their games are against teams from northern Monmouth County. This is especially true for Pinelands. Barnegat gets to play a rivalry game on Thanksgiving against Southern Regional. Pineland has no holiday rivalry.

"It's hard for kids to get fired up for those games," said Pinelands Regional coach Sean DeRosa said. "We love games like this. The kids get excited."

But proximity isn't the only thing that makes a rivalry special. There is the history of past meetings. Pinelands edged Barnegat 7-6 in overtime last season.

Barnegat scored first in the extra period on a 22-yard pass from quarterback Nick San Giacomo to Anthony Hernandez. The Bengals went for the two-point conversion.

Pinelands stopped Barnegat running back Mike Notobartolo on the one-foot line.

The play gave Pinelands momentum, and the Wildcats took advantage.

P.J. Cardillo scored on a 2-yard run and then kicked the winning extra point for Pinelands.

The game upped the rivalry's intensity.

"We couldn't get the 2 yards we needed (for the conversion)," San Giacomo said. "Everybody is pumped up for this year's game."

The rivalry has something extra going for it this year, too. The better the teams are the better the rivalry. Barnegat and Pinelands both won their season opener and have high hopes for their season.

Pinelands beat Lakewood 35-16 two weeks ago as Jeremy Hartman ran for three touchdowns. The Wildcats have a solid core of players. Lineman Tim Lamezec is one of Ocean County's best.

There is an excitement about the program that hasn't been present in years. Pinelands has new uniforms and for the first time has permanent lights, so it will play all its home games except one on Friday nights.

"They have good team chemistry," Davis said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm on their sideline."

Meanwhile, Barnegat features a pair of Division I college prospects in San Giacomo and tight end Jarrett Darmstatter.

The Bengals opened their season with a dramatic 14-13 win over Holmdel last Thursday.

San Giacomo scored on a 2-yard quarterback sneak with 2 minutes, eight seconds left to take a 14-6 lead. Holmdel scored with 39 seconds left but missed a potential game-tying extra point.

Although it's early in the season, tonight's game has plenty of ramifications.

The winner gets a boost toward the playoffs and a winning record. The winner also stays at least tied for first in the division.

More importantly, the winner gets bragging rights, and those never fade away.

"These kids are going to know each other," DeRosa said, "the rest of their lives."

E-mail Michael McGarry:

Pinelands Regional (1-0) vs. Barnegat (1-0)

When/where: 7 p.m. today at Barnegat

Why this game is important: This is a growing rivalry. The players know each from growing up in nearby towns. Barnegat and Pinelands don't usually get to play against schools located so close to them. The winner gets a boost toward the playoffs.

Key players for Barnegat: Nick San Giacomo, QB, 13-of-18 for 91 yards and four carries for 20 yards, one touchdown; Casey Pinto, RB, 14 carries for 79 yards, one touchdown; Mike DeTroia, WR, six catches for 55 yards; Jarrett Darmstatter, TE/LB, one catch for 12 yards, 10 tackles.

Key players for Pinelands Regional: Jeremy Hartman, RB, eight carries for 78 yards, three touchdowns; Matt McClain, RB, 17 carries for 138 yards; Mike Michaelson, RB, 11 carries for 102 yards; Mike Keller, QB, Bobby Schwazenberger, LB, two fumble recoveries; Tim Lamecez, OL/DL.

Rivalry history:

2008: Pinelands 7, Barnegat 6

2007: Barnegat 35, Pinelands 20

2006: Barnegat 26, Pinelands 6

Tonight's breakdown: Pinelands must control the ball with its running game. Barnegat needs to get its offense in gear and get its passing attack going. The lower the score, the better it is for Pinelands. The higher the score, the better it is for Barnegat.