Mechanicsburg is undefeated and ranked fifth in the OHSAA’s Division VI, Region 22. West Liberty-Salem is 4-1 and ranked third in the same region. The playoff implications alone make this one of the most anticipated high school football games in the state. Add to that the rivalry, the tradition and the quality of coaching at each school and fans are in for a treat Friday night at WL-S.
“It’s as big as it gets in the regular season,” WL-S Coach Dan McGill said. “The kids are excited about this week and we’ve been working hard.”
“Anytime Mechanicsburg and West Liberty play, it’s a gigantic ballgame,” MHS Coach Kurt Forrest said. “This is what high school football’s all about.”
The Tigers will play host to the monumental matchup, home for the first time in five weeks.
“It will be difficult. We’ve been on the road four straight weeks. I thought the kids handled that well,” said McGill, adding he reminded the team this week that they haven’t won a home game yet this season. The Tigers dropped their opener at home to Valley View – the only contest the squad has hosted so far.
“It’s going to be a good challenge for us,” McGill said. “They have all the characteristics of a really good football team. They’re very fundamentally sound. Their offense forces you to play assignment football and make tackles.”
Forrest is equally wary of an explosive WL-S attack.
“You have to make sure you’re extremely fundamental and you tackle,” he said, adding that the correct angle of pursuit and rallying to the ball will be critical.
The Tigers escaped with a victory in a shootout last season at Mechanicsburg, a game that still haunts Forrest on tape.
“You have to ask yourself: Why? Why did that happen?” he said. “That was hard on the heart to watch. A lot of that stress we caused ourselves. And West Liberty has a tendency to cause some defenses some stress.”
Also joining the OHC slate on Friday will be Triad (1-4) hosting Cedarville (1-4).
The Cardinals are trying to bounce back from a blowout loss to Mechanicsburg last week. The offensive and defensive lines are problematic, with the offense predicated around Trent McIntyre making split-second reads at quarterback.
He’s done an excellent job so far, but it’s not translating to wins, with the defense tiring and folding late in a couple of games so far.
If the Cardinals can find a way to get their players more rest with the shortage of bodies in uniform, Coach Payton Printz may win a Nobel Prize for work in sports science.
The Central Buckeye Conference opens divisional play this week, with Urbana (1-4) hosting winless Greenon on homecoming.
The Hillclimbers have had a rough go of it in non-league play, but Coach Jon Daniels is optimistic heading into Friday’s game.
“The guys have taken the approach that this is a new season,” Daniels said. “These next five weeks define who you are.”
Urbana will be getting some key players back from injury and Daniels expects the offensive production to benefit, especially against a Greenon team that runs the same sort of scheme that Urbana faced last week in Tecumseh.
“We’re just trying to fine-tune some things from last week and fixing some mistakes,” he said.
Graham (1-4) has MRD leader Indian Lake at home, with a real opportunity for the Falcons to put a big win up.
“The Lakers are physical, no doubt about it,” GHS Coach A.J. Woods said. “It’s homecoming, so that’s going to be big for us, too.”
Graham has been more competitive than in the past couple of years, but the Falcons still couldn’t get over the hump against elite non-division opponents. The MRD slate will test how far the team has truly come.
“Basically, we’re starting off fresh,” Woods said. “(The players) know we have a lot of season left. We’re working hard in practice.”
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.