The annual Minford/Oak Hill series has produced a number of close, hard-fought games over the past few years. The class of the SOC I for the past half-decade, the Oaks seem to give the much larger Falcons a run for the money every year. Over the past three seasons, the teams have combined for four overtime sessions.
But after getting blown out to the tune of 56-6 by Chesapeake last week, many in southern Ohio are wondering if Oak Hill (0-1) is finally starting to decline.
Not Minford coach Brent Daniels.
“That score is not indicative of how good Oak Hill is,” he said. “Chesapeake is a very good football team. They caught them on some stuff and Oak Hill couldn’t rebound from it.”
Few can blame Daniels for not underestimating the Oaks, especially after last season’s affair in Minford. After a scoreless first half, Minford (1-0) scored back-to-back touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. But with time running out, Oak Hill’s Andrew Kerns came up with two late scores to send the game to overtime.
Dillon Shepherd ultimately saved the game in overtime with a Falcon touchdown, giving Minford its fifth straight win over Oak Hill with a 28-21 win.
“It’s going to be a hard-hitting and competitive game as it has been for the past three years. Unfortunately, we’ve been on the wrong side of it,” Oak Hill head coach Nathan Dugan told the Jackson County Times-Journal.
Last week, the Oaks were heavily favored heading into a week one matchup with Chesapeake. However, the Panthers took it right to Oak Hill, gashing the Oaks for 494 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
That certainly bodes well for the Falcons, whose stable of running backs led the way for the Minford offense last week in a 49-18 win over South Point. Senior Kody Kennedy led the way for 154 yards, including a 55-yard score in the third quarter.
But where Minford really left its mark was on the defensive side of the ball. The Falcon D forced four turnovers — three by interception — and scored in the second quarter when Michael Stiltner recovered a fumble and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown.
Minford allowed just six defensive points last Friday, with the one touchdown coming from what Daniels described as a “missed assignment, a blown coverage.”
“Defensive-wise, the kids are flying around to the football and getting to where they’re supposed to be. I’m really impressed with those guys right now,” Daniels said.
This week, the Minford D will have to deal with a big Oak Hill offensive line with a very deep depth chart. The Falcons will counter with defensive end Cain Madden and linebacker Eli Daniels.
“Cain Madden is easily the best defensive lineman we’ll see this year,” Dugan told the Times-Journal.
The Falcons will also need to find a way to stop Oak Hill’s dangerous combination of quarterback Lane Burdine and receiver Willy Harris. Though the Oaks struggled offensively last week against Chesapeake, Burdine was still able to throw for 131 passing yards, inlcuding a 57-yarder to Harris.
Harris suffered what Dugan described to the Times-Journal as a “mildly” dislocated thumb. The Times-Journal also reported that Harris suffered no ligament damage, and will play this week in a soft cast.
Since Minford and Oak Hill resumed their annual meeting in 2008, the teams have traditionally met in the fifth week of the season. This season, the matchup was shifted to week two due to the expansion of the SOC I.
“(Playing in week two) makes preparing for this game much more difficult. By week five, usually teams have things figured out and you have a pretty good idea of what you can and can’t do. In week two, you’re still in the feeling out process,” Dugan said.
“The injuries are down a little bit, but there’s less time to get film,” Daniels said. “It’s always been a good game with a fun atmosphere, whether it’s up here or down there.”
Kickoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Oak Hill High School.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter