From Week 1 to this very day, there very well may not be a more improved program from a week-to-week basis than the West Senators in 2017.
However, if West wants to continue to maintain its undefeated mark after Week 8 is all said and done, the Senators will have to pass what will arguably be its biggest test yet.
With Clayton Howell and Drew Kritzwiser at its disposal among many other talented student-athletes heading the charge, Waverly, who sits at 5-2 on the year, boasts victories over two Division IV programs in Zane Trace and Unioto and holds a win over OVC foe Fairland, who is currently tied with Coal Grove for the best record overall in its conference.
Those marks, however, are certainly ones that Ben Johnson and the West Senators know plenty about. And quite honestly, even without the previously mentioned facts, it’s still quite evident that Waverly has plenty of firepower in its arsenal.
“We’re going to have to be solid in all three phases of the game,” Johnson said. “Waverly brings a lot of talent to the table. We’re going to have to be sound on defense, we’re going to have to play responsibly on the ground and through the air on offense, and we’re going to have to ready for a big challenge, in general.”
That big challenge is especially evident in Waverly’s biggest playmakers in Howell and Kritzwiser, who have put together impressive tallies throughout the year.
In the case of Howell, the senior standout put together arguably the best performance that any quarterback has managed to put together against Wheelersburg in 2017 by completing 18 of his 28 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns compared to no picks.
“We’ve got to be able to get a rush with our defensive line,” Johnson said. “If we’re not sound in coverage, (Clayton Howell) will find the open guy, so we’ve got to have an outstanding performance from our defensive line as far as getting pressure is concerned. He does get rid of the ball really quick, so we’ll have to have our hands up and bat down some passes if he does get rid of it quick. We’re going to have to be outstanding with our coverage. He’s a very experienced player, makes good reads, and knows who to get the ball out to.”
While Kritzwiser was bottled up against Wheelersburg (only rushing for 23 yards on 16 carries), Howell’s fellow classmate has proven to be an outstanding hand in his own right. Kritzwiser ran for 112 yards and three touchdowns against Piketon in the season opener and has hardly slowed down since, as evidenced by his 200-yard-plus rushing performance against Valley two weeks ago.
“(Drew Kritzwiser) is an outstanding football player,” Johnson said. “He makes big plays. He can do it from the backfield or he can catch screens and take them the distance. He’s just an outstanding back all around. We’re going to have to try to keep him bottled up and eliminate the big plays that he can make and has made throughout the course of the year.”
However, as has proven to be the case throughout the 2017 campaign, the Senators have been more than apt as far as slowing their opposition down is concerned. In fact, West’s ball control offense has more than done its part by collecting a total of 2,121 yards — an average of 303 yards per contest — in its seven wins. Garrett Hurd, who leads the rushing attack with 785 yards and eight touchdowns on 128 carries for a 6.1 yard-per-pop average, is one of the key cogs in Johnson’s offense.
“Garrett’s having a great year so far,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t need much space. If opponents just give him a little crease, he can find it. He always makes the first guy miss, and when someone gets to him, he makes them pay. He brings a wallop and always seems to get a few yards after contact.”
Behind that attack, and a strong leg from Drew Cassidy that has returned in six made field goals in seven attempts with a long of 44 yards, the Senators have scored 226 points — an average of 32 points per affair — largely because of West’s preparation and ability to control the line of scrimmage
“These guys have done a great job all year long of staying focused on the task at hand,” Johnson said. “As the season goes along, there starts to be more recognition of the things that will come in the future, but we have to stay focused on what’s going on right now and take everything game-by-game. I believe that the guys have done a good job in practice this week of focusing on getting the gameplan figured out and keeping everything one game at a time.”
Johnson’s comments especially show up large, however, on the defense side of the football, where West has put together some impressive totals. The Senators have recorded 17 sacks on the year as a unit, hold a plus-eight takeaway margin through seven games, and have return four of their 15 takeaways for touchdowns en route to holding opposing offenses to just 11 points per affair in 2017.
“We’ve had three defensive touchdowns this year, which has been huge for us,” Johnson said. “Even when we haven’t scored directly from the turnovers, we’ve put our offense in good situations by forcing those turnovers. That’s something that we’re going to have to continue to do if we want to make a run throughout the rest of this year. We actually did not force any turnovers last week (against Valley), so that is one of our points of emphasis this week.”
However, regardless of the storylines, stats, or records, this contest, like all the others West has played inside the SOC II realm, will be treated as if it is a conference championship affair.
“It’s another outstanding matchup between two SOC II football programs,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to treat it like a championship game and expect Waverly’s best effort. We look forward to a highly-contested, hard-fought football game.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7