UTICA — The Utica Redskins gave the undefeated Fredericktown Freddies their toughest match of the year in a losing effort last week. The 27-12 loss leaves the Redskins with their only conference loss this season.
Now, they have to pick themselves up and dust themselves off as they host the Danville Blue Devils this week. That’s not an easy task, despite the records.
The Blue Devils have shown some positive signs in the past three weeks. They followed a close loss to Centerburg in Week 6 with a 41-0 blowout of hapless Northridge in a game which saw Blue Devils’ running back Heath Buckingham score three touchdowns.
“Last year was our first win over Danville in about four or five years,” said Utica coach Randy Felumlee. “Records don’t mean anything and Danville’s been improving here in the last few weeks.”
“(Utica has) an explosive offense,” said Danville coach Charlie Duncan. “They run the spread offense. They come from many different angles, throwing the ball and running the ball. We’ll have to play sound defense and we’ve been playing good defense lately. We’ll have to step up more this week.”
Last week’s close 13-6 loss to the Johnstown Johnnies was another sign that Danville may be more of a force to reckon with than their season record might otherwise indicate.
“We’ve found the right mix of kids, here,” said Duncan. “We’re also pretty healthy right now, so that helps. The kids are believing in the things we are doing.”
“(Danville does) a lot of nice things,” said Felumlee. “They run the ball well. They’re very aggressive on defense and they really come after you, so we are quite aware that this is going to be a tough game. We’re trying to do everything we can to bounce back from last week.”
For the Redskins, that includes not beating themselves in situations like they did last week when they turned over the football a highly uncharacteristic seven times.
“We haven’t had anything near like that,” said Felumlee. “We’ve got to get back to doing things better than we did last weekend and come out ready to play on Friday night. Hopefully, the offense takes better care of the ball and takes some of the pressure off our defense. There’s no way we can win this week or any week with that number of turnovers.”
In the meantime, The Redskins are battling yet another, unexpected opponent.
“We’ve got a lot of kids out for something,” said Felumlee. “Whether it’s the flu or not, I don’t know what it is. I think our school had 120-some kids absent (Wednesday). We had five or six starters, who didn’t practice (Wednesday) so, we are a little more concerned about the sickness than we are the injuries. We’ve had 10 different kids out this week, but most of them have come back. I don’t know if we have a 24-hour bug going or if it’s the flu. We had a lot of kids out and it really made things tough in practice because our continuity wasn’t there very well. Where that leaves us Friday night, I don’t know.”
“Knock on wood, we’ve been pretty healthy with that stuff.” said Duncan.
Danville will have to face Utica quarterback Justin Hoar, who does it all for the Redskins. Hoar has passed for over 1,500 yards and rushed for over 900 yards this season.
“Our goal isn’t really to stop (Hoar), said Duncan. “I’m not sure if that can be done. Our goal is to contain him. He’s one heck of an athlete and what he does running the ball and throwing the ball is pretty impressive. We have to contain him and not give up big plays. I’m sure he’ll have his yardage because he’s that type of athlete.”
Spoiling Utica’s slim playoff hopes is probably the best thing that the Blue Devils could salvage from a long, losing season. In order to do that, the Danville defense will have to do a lot more than stop Hoar.
“We’re just a football team looking to get wins,” said Duncan. “It doesn’t really matter who we play this week. We’ve had our own struggles and we are looking for what we can do to W-up and get better, as a football team on our end.”
On offense, the Blue Devils will need to find a way to score. They can put up points against Centerburg and Northridge but, they have less than 20 points scored against three other MBC opponents combined this year.
“Offensively, we have moved the ball well at times.” said Duncan. “We need to do better inside of the red zone. ... Their defense is pretty tough. They’re quick up front. Hopefully, we’ll get some push in our line this week and we get some plays.”
“Of course, Buckingham is the key part of their offense,” said Felumlee. “He’s an awfully good back and runs hard. We need to keep things bottled up and not let them get out in space where they can make some long runs. We can’t let them break tackles. We’ve got to gang tackle and get a lot of people to the football. We’ve got to be aware and do a good job of reading the misdirection plays that they run and not overpursue.”