The local playoff picture is beginning to unfold, and onlookers can see some trends developing in Champaign County teams.
As divisional play begins in the Central Buckeye Conference, both Urbana and Graham have to close the gap between themselves and the competition.
“We’re excited to get into conference play. We’ve had a bit of a ‘murderer’s row’ with our schedule the last few weeks, and that’s not going to change,” UHS Coach Jon Daniels said. “The question for our team becomes ‘are we going to translate some of the things that we practice onto the field on Friday nights?’”
Urbana (1-4) hosts Kenton Ridge (3-2) this week for their first game in the Kenton Trail Division. Daniels is looking for consistency on game day – fewer mistakes, penalties and big plays allowed.
Even though the ‘Climbers have moved up to the “big school” division, Daniels isn’t concerned.
“The way the Mad River Division has shaped up over the last couple of years, the CBC as a whole has taken a turn to a more equitable conference. If you don’t have your ‘A’ game on, you’re going to have some issues. Any team in this division can make a run,” he said.
At Graham, Coach A.J. Woods and his crew will visit unbeaten Indian Lake for the first match of the MRD slate.
“Were excited to get into division play,” Woods said, noting the quality of coaching and quarterback play the Lakers have.
The Falcons (0-5) know an upset win could put them smack in the middle of the hunt for a division title.
“We work on the things we can control. We have to be the best team at things that we can control. Bad calls, bad bounces – you can’t control,” Woods said. “We really harp on those types of things to keep our kids motivated and working hard the entire time.”
At Triad, the Cardinals (0-5) are finally getting into a game they could win, traveling to Cedarville (0-5). Triad Coach Joe Cardinal isn’t taking that approach, though.
“We go into every week thinking it’s a winnable game. That’s the mindset that you have to have. You can’t have moral victories. We go every week expecting to win,” he said. “That said, there’s a difference between expecting to win and just showing up to win. They’ve played a very strong schedule. We’ve both been tested in the non-conference. It’s going to be a pretty good game.”
Triad has gotten walloped for five straight weeks, but the coach is seeing improvement.
“The identity is there. We’re starting to figure some things out. It’s taken us a little longer than we wanted to, but that’s to be expected when you have a lot of guys that haven’t played on Friday nights before,” he said. “We have really, really high character players. They aren’t in it for themselves. They’re in it for the team. We talk all the time about adversity and how you will battle adversity. Their character is keeping them together. In the end, there’s going to be a lot of positives come out of that.”
In the game of the week, West Liberty-Salem (2-3) will travel to Mechanicsburg (5-0) to take on the Indians.
The Tigers already have three blemishes on their record, so an upset over the Purple Powerhouse is just what’s needed to stay in the postseason hunt.
“We’re taking more of a micro approach to it,” WL-S Coach Dan McGill said. “Let’s go out there and line up and play hard and let the chips fall where they may.”
But the Tribe has no intention of going quietly.
“Whenever you’re facing a team that’s had as much success as West Lib, you know you’re going to get their best shot,” MHS Coach Kurt Forrest said. “Then you get them with their backs against the wall with the playoffs and the league title – you’re truly going to get everything they have. We’ve got to make sure we’re dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s to make sure we play the best ballgame we’ve played all year.”
This game has been one of the premiere rivalries in the Ohio Heritage Conference for a long time, and one that’s decided the champion the last few seasons.
“The rivalry stands apart from record. It stands apart from title implications or playoff implications. It’s special,” McGill said.
“Year in and year out, you’ve got two great football teams. You know all the little wrinkles and adjustments and you have two schools that flat-out love to beat each other,” Forrest said. “It’s a game that everyone’s got circled on their calendars and if you want to be at the top, you’ve got to win.”
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.