It’s been a roller-coaster week for the Southern Ohio Spartans. After a heartbreaking loss at home to the Cincinnati Xtreme, the Spartans learned they had sneaked into the eighth and final playoff spot thanks to a loss by the Cincinnati Bulldogs. Now, preparing to play in their first-ever playoff game, the Spartans are faced with a tall task: the top-seeded Cincinnati Hawks.
The reigning champions of the Northern Frontier Football League, the Hawks are 21-2 over the past two seasons. Ranked the sixth-best semi-pro football team in the country by the Amateur Football Power Rankings, they bring a lightning-quick spread offense and a punishing 4-3 defense.
But to Spartans head coach Michael Parker, they’re just another football team.
“None of (the Hawks) have superpowers or anything,” he said. “They bleed just like we bleed.”
They may be big-time underdogs heading into the postseason, but Parker has been preaching otherwise to his players all week.
“That’s the one thing I’m trying to get into their heads: Anything’s possible,” he said. “We’re just going to go up there and do what we’ve got to do and see what happens.”
If the Spartans want to be successful, they’ll need to take better care of the ball. Despite leading the Xtreme for the majority of last week’s game, a communication breakdown in the defensive backfield led to a long Cincinnati touchdown. In addition, the Spartans lost three key fumbles, including one on the Xtreme goal line with five minutes remaining in the game.
“We’ve got to have a perfect game. We just don’t want to hurt ourselves. No turnovers, no dumb penalties,” Parker said. “We’ve just got to play our part and cut down on the mistakes.”
Offensively, the Spartans will look to run the football and eat clock, keeping the potent Hawks offense off the field. Running backs Jon Estes and Kevin Smith will need to have big games for the Spartans, and quarterback Duke Edwards must take care of the football.
Southern Ohio has leaned on its suffocating defense all season. Unfortunately, one of its key pieces, All-Start defensive lineman Alec Meeker, will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Tre Underwood, Bryon Underwood and Shea Netter will need to step up in his absence.
Though a victory over the Hawks may seem like an impossible task on paper, Parker hopes the Spartans use it to their advantage.
“Basically, our keys to the game are to go in there and have fun,” he said. “The odds are against us, so we have nothing to lose.”
Kickoff is schedule for 8 p.m. at Western Hills High School in Cincinnati.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter