PDT Sports Writer
Last season, the Kentucky Warriors came up short in the Northern Frontier Football League Championship game when they fell 28-14 to the Cincinnati Hawks. A year later, the loss still smarts.
“I tried to hold my tears. It bothered me a lot,” Warrior kicker Mark Dheel said. “To get that close, and as much practice as we got, it ate me alive.”
“It was totally disheartening,” defensive lineman Steve Lee said. “We worked so hard all year, and if a couple plays go our way it’s a different ball game.”
“We’re still a little bitter,” offensive lineman Jeremy Maxie said. “We’d like redemption.”
The Warriors will get that chance for redemption when they take on the Cincinnati Hawks Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Spartan Municipal Stadium.
The Hawks, the reigning AA National Champions, feature a spread offense and a stout aerial attack, led by veteran quarterback Antonio Davis and a stellar receiving corps. They have scored at least 36 points in all four of their victories this season.
“He can spin it,” said defensive coordinator Brian Wroten of Davis. “He’s a good football player.”
The Warriors plan to stop the Hawk attack begins on the defensive line.
“We’ve just got to put pressure on the quarterback,” veteran defensive lineman Steve Lee said. “That’s all we can do. We have three seconds to get to them, and hopefully we can get the job done.”
The Warriors secondary will also face a tall task in shutting down Hawk receivers, which are considered by many to be the best in the league.
“They’ve got height, speed, and all of them can catch,” said Warrior strong safety Snook Maritn. “They’re all very athletic. When they get their hands on the ball, they can take one shift and it’s six the other way.”
Looking to dictate the tempo of the game, Warrior defensive backs will look to engage Hawk receivers and stay physical all game long.
“We’re definitely going to get physical with them,” Martin said. “We’ll try get them out of their game early, you know, talk a little bit and put our hands on them.”
“We know what they’re going to run,” Wroten said. “We just have to go out there and stop it.”
On the other side of the ball, the Warrior offense will be facing a team that is giving up less than seven points a contest on the year. Luckily, they have dual-threat quarterback Jon Schweickart under center, who rushed and passed his way to over 200 yards of total offense in last Saturday’s win over the Kings Comets.
“I think this week, I’ll have to use my arm,” Schweickart said. “I try to go to my arm whenever I can, but if I have to run, I’ll run.”
Knowing that the Hawks run a 4-3 defense with a mix of cover two and cover three, Schweickart is confident he’ll be able to find plays to punch the Warriors through to the end zone.
“I know the plays our receivers can run and bust their formation,” Schweickart said. “Once we get them out of their comfort zone, it’s all touchdowns from there. It’s like what happened last week, once we get them out of their comfort zone, they didn’t know what to do.”
A win would give the Warriors a leg up on the chase for playoff home field advantage and could vault them to the top of the AA AFPR polls, which determines who plays for the National Championship.
“It would give us a good coast into the playoffs,” Maxie said. “This is, in our opinion, one of the toughest teams we have left on our schedule.”
Schweickart took it a step further.
“People will quit underestimate us and they’ll start taking us seriously,” he said. “They think we’re just a bunch of country boys down here that don’t know much about city football.”
It will certainly be a barn-burner when the Hawks visit the country this weekend.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 294 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter