A half-mile of offensive yardage. One-hundred three points. Forty-six first downs.
That’s what Piketon and Valley combined to do on offense last season in the Indians’ 63-40 week three road win in 2014. But don’t expect an offensive explosion when the Redstreaks travel to Lucasville on Friday.
This year, both Piketon coach Tyler Gullion and Valley coach Darren Crabtree agree that defense will be key.
Defense has fueled Valley early in 2015 — in fact, it’s been their driving force since late last season. The Indians have not allowed more than 28 points in a game since a week eight loss to Wheelersburg in October of 2014. So far this year, Valley has surrendered only 14 points to its opponents, all of them coming last Saturday against Coal Grove. The Indian defense also forced three turnovers in a 47-14 win.
“I would like to think we’re much better (on defense) this year,” Crabtree said. “I think the 40 points we gave up to Piketon was the most we gave up in any game…our techniques and fundamentals are much better (this year).”
But after facing two run-heavy offenses in Portsmouth and Coal Grove, the Valley secondary has been largely unchallenged so far in 2015. That will change this week, when the Indians face Piketon’s Devon Brewster, a three-year starting quarterback.
“We haven’t seen anyone in our first two weeks or in our scrimmages that throws the ball as much as Piketon does,” Crabtree said. “That will be a big test, trying to match up with their empty sets.”
After relying heavily on their pass-heavy spread offense in 2014, defense has also proved to be the biggest strength for the Redstreaks this season. Piketon has allowed just nine offensive points this season, all of them coming in a week-one loss to Waverly.
“We kind of have a different team…Our defense has been playing solid the last two games. Offensively we have to pick it up,” Gullion said.
Last week, the Redstreak defense shut out the Vinton County offense in a 26-2 victory that was split over the course of two days last weekend. Piketon’s defensive backs limited the Vikings to only 39 passing yards throughout the game and just first down through the air.
The Redstreak defense is led by linebacker senior Matt Smith, who recorded six tackles (one for a loss) and recovered a fumble against the Vikings. Senior Gage Williams also recorded two sacks for Piketon.
But the Redstreaks face perhaps their biggest challenge this week in Valley, as they’ll be forced to try and stop an offense loaded with veteran weapons. Senior running back Blake Howard has already scored eight touchdowns on the young season (six on the ground, two on kickoff returns), and tight end Bryce Romanello is averaging nearly 30 yards a reception.
Then there’s quarterback Bryan Rolfe, who’s racked up 272 yards of total offense this season all on his own.
“You have to play your responsibility. They have so many weapons, you can’t key on one guy,” Gullion said. “You can’t tackle with one person, you have to get three or four guys there at the time.”
After a Final Four appearance in 2014, Crabtree knows his team will play with a target on its back all season long. This week will be no different.
“When we play the game as hard as we can and give maximum effort, we’re pretty good. When we don’t do that…we become very average,” Crabtree said. “People are going to give us their best shot. Nothing would be better for Piketon than to get their season going to come into Valley and upset us.”
As for Piketon, Gullion knows that a win over one of the region’s top programs would do wonders for his team as they begin conference play next week.
“They’re one of the best teams around, one of the best programs around. It will be a good measuring stick going into our league. They are as advertised,” Gullion said.
Kickoff for Friday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Valley High School.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter