Last year in their inaugural season, the Southern Ohio Spartans finished 2-8, with one of those victories coming via a forfeit. Not once did they even get a whiff of the postseason.
What a difference a year makes.
The Spartans (5-4) have a chance to clinch their first-ever postseason berth with a win over the rival Cincinnati Xtreme (4-5) Saturday at New Boston Stadium. Earlier this season, the Spartans fell to the Xtreme 17-7 on the road.
“We just need to come in with a different mindset. To me, football is played with a mental aspect, especially at this level,” Spartans head coach Michael Parker said. “We just need to come in with a good mentality and cut down on the turnovers.”
Former Portsmouth High School standout Duke Edwards will line up at quarterback for the Spartans. The versatile back has also spent time at running back and wide receiver this season.
The Spartans will look to take advantage of Edwards’ speed and passing limitations by running a zone-read offense. Parker hopes that nickel-and-diming the Xtreme will reap big rewards as the game goes on.
“We’re going to put the receivers right in his face so (Edwards) won’t have to throw downfield,” he said. “It will make his game easier and he can make a couple of short completions and build his confidence.”
Behind Edwards, the Spartans will have former Wheelersburg running back Christian Ellis and Alec Meeker. An All-Star defensive lineman for the Spartans, Meeker filled in at running back last week and had a big day rushing against the Carter County Wildcats.
“He’s a big guy, but he’s got quick feet,” Parker said.
Defensively, the Spartans will look to do what they’ve done all season: stay aggressive and force turnovers. Parker hopes to see 11 green helmets on the ball carrier on every defensive play.
“The game is going to be won by the team that commits the less turnovers,” Parker said. “We’re just going to go out and run around and try and force turnovers on defense.”
Though the Spartans have only been around for two seasons, they’ve already developed quite the rivalry with the Xtreme. The teams’ players know each other well, and are excited to get on the field.
“As far getting prepared, they should already be prepared,” Parker said. “Especially with this much implication on the game … there’s really no speech you can prepare.”
In the Northern Frontier Football League, it’s hard enough to keep a franchise going, let alone turn one around. After a difficult first season, the Spartans have already guaranteed at least a .500 record for 2014. And if they can win on Saturday and earn a playoff berth, who knows how far they can go?
“It’s a testament to the players, especially the ones that show up and are dedicated with the work they put in during the season,” Parker said. “I’m very proud of the boys and the work that they’ve put in to even have a shot at making the playoffs.”
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter