McDERMOTT — Forgive the Northwest Mohawks for, if it ultimately comes to it, not wanting to share.
However, if indeed Northwest wants to capture its first outright Southern Ohio Conference Division I football championship —it’s a challenging two-step process starting this Friday night.
And, they know it too.
Still, it’s what the Mohawks have been building for —ever since their drop to the SOC I from the larger SOC II starting in the 2014 campaign.
While Northwest won a three-way share of that division championship, they crave an outright crown —although the undefeated and invading Eastern Eagles are in search of their own SOC I banner, and have other ideas.
“We want our first outright (SOC I) championship. Last year, we preached that, and we fell a little short against Symmes Valley. We don’t want to share, we want to find a way to make it ours. There’s still something missing. We want and need our own outright championship and this is our opportunity to get it,” said second-year Northwest coach Bill Crabtree.
Crabtree continued, in an interview on Tuesday, and admitted —to date — it’s “the biggest game of the year”.
Of course, that could completely change next week with the road show at Symmes Valley, but for the here and now, it’s absolutely all about the Eagles.
“Eastern is a real big challenge. They are undefeated and have a lot of real good athletes. We have to focus on some changes we have to make and other things to give us an opportunity in this game,” he said. “We’re fired up for sure. We’ve got some changes coming, just trying to figure out what works and how to control the clock and protect the football and be aggressive on defense. That’s our goals.”
At least, regardless of the outcome at Roy Rogers Field Friday night, the winner WILL win at least a share of the league title —and a championship is still a championship no matter how many ways it is split.
Kickoff for 4-0 Eastern and 3-1 Northwest is set for 7 p.m., as both are 3-0 in the SOC I.
The Mohawks had a golden opportunity against visiting Symmes Valley in last season’s finale for that outright championship — but breakdowns all the way around cost them.
Instead, Crabtree emphasized playing disciplined and assignment football against the athletic Eagles —and not taking the bait on biting on tricks or engaging in mouth-running or out-of-control emotions.
Crabtree is actually a former assistant for Eastern coach Scott Tomlison, as the Eagles are in their sixth season as a varsity program —and eighth overall.
“I have coached these kids at Eastern, and they are all good kids up there,” he said. “They are a lot like our kids. Pretty decent athletes, real good attitudes, it should be a real good and clean game.”
For the Eagles, they are aiming for their first league championship —either outright or shared.
As a result, there’s a lot of excitement for football — as the small Pike County school has always best been known for its basketball.
Against Northwest, Eastern actually owns a 3-2 lead in the all-time series —with all five contests coming the past five years and the Eagles winning by at least three touchdowns each time (2016 45-19, 2017 32-0, 2018 28-7).
“There is a lot of excitement in our community and at our school. It’s one of our goals, and it’s been a battle cry for a year now to hang a banner for the first time ever,” said Tomlison. “We knew all year that it (championship) would go through Symmes Valley and Northwest. With Northwest being the biggest school in the league, with 60 to 70 kids on the roster, we pretty much know they are going to be one of the favorites to win the league year-in and year-out. If we want to win the league, we have to go to Northwest and take care of business.”
It will definitely be a contrast in styles — as Eastern is a diverse spread-oriented offense which mixes well the pass and the run, while Northwest’s offense is always noted for its extremely tight foot-to-foot line splits and power running attack with two tight ends.
Brayden Campbell is the Mohawks’ feature back.
“It’s still a power offense from their past. All they did was go to shotgun,” said Tomlison. “They are still swinging gate down, pulling those big linemen and kicking out with their backs. It looks a little different, but it’s the same stuff. They are bigger and stronger than everybody, so they want to line you up and run you over. We’ve got to stay low and play physical, and if we don’t we’re going to be in trouble.”
Look for the Mohawks — in order to keep Eastern’s offense off the field — to employ a meticulous ball-control, clock-consuming approach.
“That’s going to be huge. They can’t score if they don’t have the ball,” said Crabtree. “We’re obviously going to try and control the clock and do our thing. Our running game, we have a stable full of guys who are more than capable, and our line is getting better. We had a lot of confusion early on, but we’ve changed some things up and simplified some things, and now we’re trying to get to where our players can make plays.”
The Mohawks must have playmakers for Friday night, as Eastern already has plenty.
They include all-purpose performer Logan Clemmons, running back Dillion Mattox, quarterback Wyatt Hines, and six-foot four-inch wideout Bryce Myer.
Perhaps most impressive for Eastern was putting up 50 points at Symmes Valley, as the Eagles won that one by four scores.
Tomlison took his spread offense, he said, from his college coach Rich Rodriguez —the former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona among other stops.
“The (Dillion) Mattox kid is a real nice running back for them. He can then go to quarterback for them and runs the option real well. (Logan) Clemmons is one of the better athletes in the area. We have to figure out how to keep those two contained for sure. The quarterback (Wyatt) Hines has good numbers and he knows how to find Clemmons and (Bryce) Myer. Myer is a big target out there at 6-foot-4,” said Crabtree. “They have all kinds of weapons and they do a good job of spreading the ball around and getting their athletes in space. Every down you have to look for a big play from them. We have to do a good job of keeping everything contained and we’ve got to do a better job on open-field tackling.”
Crabtree said team tackling needs to improve, as Northwest won last season’s matchup in part on the strength of takeaways.
“We have to get people to the ball and make sure we finish on tackles and force turnovers,” he said. “Last year, we had some success with turnovers against them. We need big plays from our players. They’ve got good athletes across the board and we do too. It’s just we have to find a way to get our athletes involved and do the best we can at shutting their athletes down.”
Tomlison said depending upon the matchups, “our offense may pass 70-percent, may run 70-percent or be 50-50”.
“We spread it out, and it depends on what they give us. If they want to put too many in the box, we will throw the ball,” he said. “If teams want to take one thing away, we have plenty of confidence in our other kids to make plays.”
Speaking of confidence, the seven-senior Eagles are playing with such — as they undoubtedly enter their most important game in program history.
“That’s an honest statement to make. We’ve never had the chance to play for a conference championship before,” said Tomlison. “So it’s the biggest game for our program so far. It’s all our kids have talked about.”
While Eastern embraces any piece of a league title, so will the Mohawks if it ultimately comes to that — although they prefer not to share.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved