The East Tartans have had a storybook season through the first seven weeks. A perfect record, enough computer points at the moment to host a playoff game and only one time has the Tartans only settled for winning by single digits — a 15-8 victory in week 3 against Alexander.
So what do Tartan fans have to worry about? A week 8 matchup against the Oak Hill Oaks.
East (7-0, 3-0) controls its own destiny. The SOC I Championship and path toward the playoffs go through Sciotoville, but the problem is Oak Hill has had a strangle hold on the SOC, winning at least a share of the conference seven out of the last eight years.
And just like previous years, the Oaks find themselves near the top of the SOC standings. Even though Oak Hill only boasts a 3-4 record, the Oaks are 3-0 in conference play.
“They are still Oak Hill,” Tartans coach James Gifford said. “No matter what the record is, until we beat Oak Hill, they’ve continuously been the better team. Everyone on the team is aware of the situation. This keeps us in the running for the SOC championship. But we’ve tried our hardest to prepare for Oak Hill just like we’ve prepared for any other team on our schedule. That’s something that we’ve been pretty good at this year, not playing up or down to levels of competition, but just playing Tartan football.”
While the Oaks lost to Wheelersburg 42-0 two weeks ago, Gifford was willing to bet the Pirates fought for every yard in that game.
“They’re a very physical team,” Gifford said. “Even the Wheelersburg game, and Wheelersburg beat them by a pretty good score, but I guarantee at the end of the game the Wheelersburg players probably thought that Oak Hill was a decent, hard hitting team. You can tell they’re strong. They’ve got a good weight program. They’re use to winning. They know how to play. They are well coached. It makes them a tough team to beat.”
Offensively, Gifford couldn’t name the key players to focus on because he believes the Oaks are so balanced, a number of people could emerge in the contest.
“They’re so balanced all the way across,” Gifford said. “They’re backs, they run hard. To be honest, there isn’t just one player I’m looking to key on and that’s where you want to get to as a coach. The program speaks for itself. Everyone plays hard and that doesn’t really allow you to just key on one or two guys. We have to really focus on their whole team and play team ball against them.”
Gifford believes his team has the speed advantage but utilizing the speed is another story entirely.
“Overall, I think we have more team speed then them, but in order to get speed going, you’ve got to get off the line of scrimmage,” Gifford said. “So we need to be physical up front to allow our backs to hit the holes. Their physicality as a defense concerns you but we really feel like if we can get going down hill, once we get to the second level, I think we really have the advantage. Getting to that second level is going to be the obstacle.”
Gifford said the keys to the game for East comes down to eliminating penalties and no turning the ball over. The game will kickoff at 7 at Tartan Field.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.