UTICA — After splitting their first two games, the Utica Redskins are learning what it takes to win week in and week out. Last week’s 45-21 loss to visiting Granville was especially eye-opening since the Redskins led 14-10 at halftime.
Heading into their Week 3 game against the Heath Bulldogs, the Redskins have been focused on the basics, getting better in all facets of the game.
“Our theme this week is all about fundamentals — getting off blocks, better tackling in the open field and doing a better job of sustaining our blocking on offense,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “The whole game (against Granville) we didn’t block very well. Some of the things we did OK in the first half, we did extremely poorly in the third quarter and we paid for it with (Granville’s) speed. When you let someone get in the open field, there isn’t much you can do. We missed a lot of open tackles and weren’t able to get in position because we weren’t able to get off blocks. They hit us with a lot of bubble screens and things like that which allowed their playmakers to make plays. It really just spiraled from there.
“We learned from it. You’ve got to use technique and be better at the simple fundamentals of the game. We’ve got to keep the ball in front of us, and we’ve got to get more people to the ball.”
For a half, Utica looked like the team to beat against the Blue Aces. Unfortunately, a third-quarter breakdown cost the Redskins a shot at the win. Felumlee has been focusing on what his team did right as they prepare for Heath.
“Our kids did what we asked them to in the first half,” Felumlee said. “We need to build off that. ... We are facing the same challenge (this week); it is just coming from a different style of offense. Heath lines up in traditional formations and runs traditional plays. They just have great athletes who make plays with the ball. The same concept of fundamentals still applies this week. If we don’t do that, we are going to give up a lot of points because their big, athletic skill players are every bit as good, and if not faster, as Granville’s. We’re facing the same challenges. We can’t allow the big plays.”
The Bulldogs are an offensive powerhouse. Heath has piled up 91 points in its first two games, including 50 against Johnstown in Week 2. Utica, which lost to both Granville and Heath last season, will need to perform at a higher level to slow the Bulldog attack.
“Where we got exposed last year was in the personnel changes we had to make,” said Felumlee. “The position changes we made helped us down the road. This year, I’m pretty confident we’ve got the personnel where they need to be based on what we have. We’ve just got to do a better job at the techniques of the game. We’ve got to get better at what we do. The good news is we played decently in the first half against Granville and had the lead. We just had a major breakdown in the third quarter. Can we play four quarters of solid football on Friday night? If we do, we will have a chance.
“They present multiple challenges,” Felumlee said. “They’ve got an experienced team; they’ve got a physical offensive line which does a great job. They’ve got speed at multiple positions; some positions have incredible speed, top-notch speed. The combination of an experienced veteran team with a good line and some great skill players makes them who they are. They are very solid and I fully expect to see them playing in November. If they are not, I will be very surprised. They are a solid team across the board.”
Heath shut out Utica last season, 33-0, and the Bulldog defense looks just as strong this season. They have allowed 34 points in two games. For Utica, it may come down to simply winning the turnover battle.
“We struggled against them last year because they took away the things we did decent. We learned from that,” Felumlee said. “They were able to take away our best stuff and we didn’t have an answer. Our big problem this year is that we are more turnover prone. I think in the first eight plays of the game last Friday, we turned it over three times. Two of those were in very good scoring positions where we could have had more points on the board. We’ve got to be better; we’ve given up the ball eight times in two games. If we get better, then our offense has the potential to score. We’re going to have to take care of the ball (against Heath) because we don’t want to give it back over to them.”
While the game against the Bulldogs is the last nonconference game of the season for Utica, the Redskins are not talking about the Mid-Buckeye Conference title just yet.
“Our focus is on beating Heath,” said Felumlee. “The implications of beating Heath have playoff implications for us. If we had beaten Granville or Heath last year, we would have been in the playoffs easily, but we didn’t do that. It is going to be a big challenge. Those are two teams on our schedule that are extremely good. We hope to have done better (against Granville), and we have one more chance to do better (against Heath) on Friday.
“I said before the season that Heath was the best team on our schedule and I haven’t seen anything on film that changes my mind.”
One thing the Redskins may have in their favor on Friday night is the home field. When the ball kicks off at 7:30 p.m., Felumlee is hoping for a noisy crowd.
“If you base it on our past history, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason if we win or lose at home,” said Felumlee. “Our crowd did a tremendous job last week for us, so it may be a helpful situation for us. We would like our field to be to our advantage. Last year, we were 5-0 at home, but this year remains to be seen.”