Looking to lock down one of the top two seeds in the NFFL playoffs, the Kentucky Warriors (5-1, ranked 16th nationally in both AA and AFPR semi-pro polls) will travel to Cincinnati for a critical road game with the Northwest Dukes (1-5).
After committing eight turnovers over the course of two games, Warrior head coach Jamie Rice knows his team will need to take care of the football if they want to come away with a victory.
“Offensively, we’re going to try and clean up some of our mistakes,” he said. “We really want to focus on limiting our turnovers, those have really killed us the past couple of games.”
Rice hopes his players take a more conservative approach in Saturday’s game.
“If it’s not there…don’t force it,” he said. “Sometimes, a punt isn’t the worst thing in the world. Our defense is going to get us the ball back. A pick six? That really hurts.”
Much of the Warriors’ hopes rest on the shoulders of quarterback Jonathon Schweickart. There’s been flashes of brilliance in his first year as quarterback for Kentucky, with 14 total passing and rushing touchdowns. However, he’s also prone to turnovers with 11 interceptions.
“He really is getting better,” Rice said. “The guy has a cannon of an arm. He’s a big guy and hard to bring down and he’s deceptively fast. He just makes young quarterback mistakes.”
Defensively, the Warriors will be facing a balanced Northwest offense committed to running the ball. Though the Warriors are coming off a bye week, they still will need to overcome some major injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Leading tacklers Nathan Fannin and Steve Lee will both miss the game with hamstring pulls.
“Hopefully those guys will be back next week for Spartans game (on July 19),” Warriors head coach Jamie Rice said. “They’re just not 100 percent. We would rather just let them heal up a little bit.”
In addition, Warrior wide receiver/defensive back David Mallory is also questionable for Saturday’s game. He too pulled his hamstring in a June 28 game against the Cincinnati Bulldogs. Rice said Mallory would be mainly used on offense this week if he is available.
However, the Warriors will welcome strong safety Snook Martin back to the secondary after missing the Bulldog game. He’s recorded 22 tackles and two interceptions this season.
“In my opinion, Snook is the best strong safety in the league,” Rice said.
Along with a two-hour road trip for Saturday’s game, the Warriors will also have to deal with an usual start time. The 4 p.m. kickoff not only limits the amount of players available for the game, but it also means the Warriors will be playing during the hottest part of the day.
“Playing at that kind of time is tough,” Rice said. “The heat gets to them a little bit. We try and step our game to try and get these guys hydrated. Guys that may not play a certain position may need to come in and give a couple of reps.”
The game against the Dukes marks an important four-game stretch for the Warriors as they look to grab home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“We need to win out. In semi-pro football, the home team vs. the road team may mean the difference in 10 players that can make the trip,” he said. “We really need to finish in the top two or three seeds. That way, you’re hosting the first round of the playoffs. This stretch run here is really, really important for us.”
“If you can go on the road and win a game, it doesn’t matter what the score is. We just need to try to get out of there with a victory.”
Alex Hider can be reached at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931, or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter