PDT Sports Writer
Merril Triplett has noticed a difference from this year’s West football team compared to last year’s 4-6 squad.
The region may have taken notice after last week’s 35-28 win over previously-unbeaten Minford.
“This is a senior class that is very close and it’s a good combination of classes,” Triplett said. “They’re not very big, they know that they are underdogs but they’re quick and they work very hard.”
That underdog mentality is what the 3-3 Senators will bring into Lucasville Friday night as they look to hand the Indians their first loss, not only of the season, but in their last 27 regular-season games. Valley opened SOC II play last week with a 41-0 win at Waverly. The Indians held the Tigers to 30 yards of total offense in the second half.
The winner will be guaranteed at least a first-place tie in the SOC II with three games to go and Wheelersburg, the division’s other undefeated squad, on each of their schedules.
“We’ve got to decide that we’re going to come out and play hard for four quarters and get after people,” Valley coach Darren Crabtree said. “I think that again, our kids especially with this week’s game against West coming up big against Minford, understand this is a big game for us. So far this year of the games we’ve considered big games, our kids have shown up and played well.”
The Indian defense has been stingy this season as they have sent their last five opponents into the locker room at halftime with zero points. In all, Valley has allowed 20 first half points.
Crabtree says it starts with the play of his linebackers that is headed by senior Nate Arnett.
“It’s just been a conscious effort, even after the Van Buren game where we gave up a couple of big plays for their touchdowns,” Crabtree said, “we just talked about being a little bit more disciplined and being a little more aggressive at the same time. Since then… the kids have at this point taken a lot of pride in the fact that we’re making some plays defensively and it’s just been a total effort on that side of the ball.”
While this may be one of Triplett’s smaller teams in terms of size, they have done the little things correctly.
“In the summer, we said that we’re going to have to be good at special teams or we’re not going to have a chance (because) we’re so small,” Triplett said. “You don’t have any blinding speed, we’ve got some quick kids, but you don’t have that one that everyone holds their breath and (says oh my word), don’t kick it to that one, he can just outrun everybody.”
As an alternative, Triplett relies on a group of skilled players and their agility to gain major yards.
“You just don’t have any superstars, you’ve just got hard-nosed kids that play together and enjoy one’s company,” Triplett said.
In last week’s victory, Triplett felt the fundamentals were key.
“Our whole line, we kept bodies on bodies and you didn’t just blow people off the ball,” Triplett said. “We just fired into them and let our backs block for each other and then make the cut.”
The confidence with the win over the Falcons cannot be overlooked according to Crabtree. The Senators have outgained opponents on the ground 1,475-828 and are led by Austin Bricker, who has a team-high 633 yards on 125 carries. Dylan Koons and Bryson Hurd are also in triple digits rushing through six contests.
“They’ve regained that stride of running the football and when they do that, they’re a pretty good football team,” Crabtree said. “They take time off the clock and they’re able to put points up.”
Triplett understands this week’s opponent will be another challenge.
“They just look like last year’s team, they’re just solid,” Triplett said. “It’s the reason they’re undefeated. Those coaches have been together, just like Minford’s squad, every team (in the SOC II) is well-coached, they all have good weight programs and Valley is having a great run of kids.”
The goal will be to slow down a rushing attack led by Arnett carrying the ball with Kyle and Caleb Miller anchoring the line.
“They’ve got the big backs, the big line and they come right at you,” Triplett said.
He also gives high praise to senior tight end/defensive end Hayden Dunn.
“He’s one of the premier ends in the area,” Triplett said. “I think that he’s a super end, offensively and defensively.”
When the two teams last met in Lucasville, both were sporting identical 7-0 marks. Valley came away with a 28-20 win and went on to a perfect 10-0 regular season while it was the only loss for West in the 2011 regular season campaign.
The Indians won last year’s meeting 30-0 in West Portsmouth.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or email@example.com. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.