Coshocton at East Knox
The East Knox Bulldogs are coming off a 1-9 season, due mainly to the size of the roster — in more ways than one. The Bulldogs were frequently outmuscled by their larger opponents, and often there was no way to freely substitute to give them a breather.
This year’s Bulldogs are bigger and stronger. The size of the roster is still limited (there were 37 players listed in Tuesday’s Pigskin Preview) but the players on the field will be more competitive. Experience helps as well, as Cody Howard returns to take snaps and Dylan Wears remains the featured back. Mason Lyons adds depth to the rushing attack. But the Bulldogs will have to put the ball in the air to avoid Coshocton’s crushing pass rushers.<
Danville at Rittman
The Danville Blue Devils (7-4 in 2011) are looking to make it two straight years with a postseason berth. To do that, they’ll have to show the Rittman Indians that they’re for real. Danville decisively defeated Rittman, 47-0, in last year’s meeting. It was the first of a pair of shutouts that led Danville to a No. 2 rating in the Ohio High School Div. VI AP poll. The Blue Devils are big for a D-VI school but, more importantly, they’ve shown in practice that they are quick to the ball. Quarterback Bryce Staats won’t have Danville all-time leading rusher Heath Buckingham to hand the ball to anymore, but he will have a two-pronged attack in Austin Gonzales and Kyle Shultz.
Last year’s defeat was the start of a long season for the Indians (1-9), whose only victory was a 7-0 yawnfest over archrival Chippewa. Rittman struggled to move the ball in 2011 as the team managed more than one offensive score just once all season. Danville’s reputation of having a dominant defense won’t likely be challenged.
Centerburg at Cardington
The Centerburg Trojans were the most surprising team in the Mid-Buckeye Conference in 2011, remaining alive in the playoff hunt until the last game. That berth didn’t come — despite having only two losses — but the Trojans could see their fortunes getting better if they repeat last year’s success with this year’s schedule.
Centerburg (8-2 in 2011) hadn’t yet fully developed its west-coast style offense in last year’s meeting with Cardington, which ended in a 22-8 Trojan victory. Tyler Stoyle is the quarterback of an offense that features quick passes and a strategic rushing attack. A quartet of speedsters (Austin Glasscock, Joey Valentine, Josh Teale and Jeremy Sesma) will lead the offense. Centerburg’s defensive linemen were stronger than Cardington’s offensive counterparts in their last encounter. With the bulk of the defense returning, the same could be expected on Friday.
Cardington took a step back last season. Despite a 6-4 record, the Pirates could not hold up to the stronger, elite teams of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference. Cardington has even fewer players on this year’s roster, and the lack of quality depth will hurt while trying to keep up with Centerburg’s style of play.
Buckeye Local at Utica
Last year got off to a rocky start for the Utica Redskins when they lost their opener to Buckeye Local, 33-16, on the road. This year, the game is at home, and the Redskins are hungry.
A large senior class will lead Utica (2-8 in 2011) on the field this season. The team’s focus is defense, where the Redskins will return to the basics. Offensively, Utica will likely be led once again by tailback Travis Baldwin. However, with a toss-up at quarterback, little experience in the three- to four-wideout set and a new group of linemen, the offense will have to jel quickly if it wants to get the jump on Buckeye Local.
Overall, 19 Buckeye Local seniors return. The Panthers (6-4) should be significantly tougher this season, especially on defense. The team returns most of last year’s starters, including three in the secondary. The leading tackler, lineback Brian Zuroski, also returns. Offensively, there are still a lot of question marks, but the Panthers would like to open up the playbook in 2012.