McDERMOTT — For the Northwest Mohawks and the Notre Dame Titans, Friday night indeed marks a new beginning —with the opening of Southern Ohio Conference Division I play.
But as the Mohawks truly try to hit the reset button on their injury-ravaged season, the undefeated Titans try to keep the confidence up — and the momentum-wave riding.
With it being late September, and as Rod Stewart sang once “you really should be back at school”, conference competition kicks off in earnest on Friday night —as the defending SOC I champion Mohawks travel to face the up-and-coming and challenger Titans.
And, while Northwest has dropped four consecutive after opening the season with a shutout at Southeastern —and Notre Dame is 5-0 for the first time in two decades — league play sometimes tends to turn tides.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Spartan Municipal Stadium, as Notre Dame will actually be playing its fifth home game so far —with three of its final four in the regular season being road shows.
But Northwest, while much healthier and a much different unit in last season’s regular-season finale at Symmes Valley, did win its first outright SOC I title on the road.
The Mohawks, which will return to the SOC II in two years, dropped down to the smaller school-centric SOC I in 2014 —and shared the division championship with Symmes Valley and Oak Hill that year.
Northwest, a Division V football program, is clearly the largest SOC I school —while some seasons Notre Dame was fortunate to field even 20 players.
But the numbers game, given Northwest’s serious injury situation, is almost even this time.
And, the Titans take the field brimming with confidence — and a second-spot ranking in Tuesday’s release of the official Ohio High School Athletic Association Division VII Region 28 computer ratings.
The Titans (7.0323 computer points average) — having crafted second-half comebacks for back-to-back triumphs over Fisher Catholic and Fayetteville — trail only traditional state powerhouse Marion Local (10.2606 CPA).
Needless to say, but Notre Dame is off to its best start since 2000 — when it went undefeated in the regular season, and played a pair of state playoff games.
“We have our work cut out and our hands full for us this week, but it’s a whole new season. But being 5-0 is a good feeling right now. Hadn’t had it in a long time,” said NDHS veteran head coach Bob Ashley. “I’m proud of our coaches, our players and our fans for their fantastic job these first five games. It helps to have some wins behind us as we come into this (league play).”
Confidence is indeed key, but so is being able to match up in numbers —and on the field.
The Mohawks — despite the decimation via injuries and playing younger players as a result — have bulk up front still, and still show their unique offensive approach.
While standout running back Brayden Campbell remains out with a foot injury suffered in the second week, and two-way runner and linebacker and leader Evan Lintz is likely out for the year, Northwest will continue to line up in its traditional two-tight end and double-wing formations.
Running the ball for the Mohawks is the committee of Colton Campbell, Jesse Copas, Layne Gilley, fullback Wyatt Brackman, and quarterback Austin Newman —and perhaps Zane Gilley.
The Mohawks’ arguably best blockers are Gilley, who returns after missing most of the last two weeks with injury; Waylon McGlone, who returns after missing last week with a concussion; and Alex Baer.
Ashley is aware, injuries or not, of what Northwest brings.
“They have their typical size, they are big and physical up front. They like to play power football. They have good skilled kids and they fly to the football defensively. Special teams are solid too,” said the coach. “We’ll accept the challenge and do the best we can.”
Which is what the Mohawks have been doing — in spite of everything that’s happened to them.
They shut Southeastern out 40-0 in the opener, but as NewFound Glory once sang, it’s been all downhill from here.
Two fourth-quarter turnovers and a 28-21 Aug. 27 loss in the last nine seconds at Valley — plus the devastating injuries to Campbell, Lintz, Korey Butler, James Riffe, Ian Strickland and Reece Lute among others in that game and/or since then —have paved the way for the 1-4 start.
Of that group, only Campbell is a possibility to return.
The Mohawks lost 42-18 against visiting Valley in their original meeting last week, as the previous three losses —28-21 at Valley, 28-20 against Huntington and 21-14 at Oak Hill —have all occurred inside the final minute-and-a-half.
“We’re probably one of the better 1-4 teams in the state of Ohio,” said Northwest coach Bill Crabtree, in an interview on Wednesday. “We’ve been hit bad by injuries and even quarantines. It’s been to key guys who we were counting on to make plays and who have that breakaway speed.”
And, in spite of injuries and turnovers and even coronavirus quarantines, the Mohawks could possibly be 4-1.
However, they are not —but they are, as Crabtree quoted the legendary American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry from the War of 1812, “not giving up the ship”.
In fact, there’s been a different vibe this week, the coach explained.
“This season so far hasn’t gone the way we planned, but we’ve talked a lot about not giving up. Because right now, we’re still the SOC I champs. We’re not done. And this week, we’ve actually had the best week of practice we’ve had all year. The kids are having fun again this week,” said Crabtree. “We said we’ve had to find football players, and the kids have responded by getting after it and hitting. It’s like we’re getting our wind back for the first time in a few weeks. The kids are ready to go, they seem hungry again, and that’s what we need going into conference play here.”
The Titans take aim with their own array of offensive weapons —including quarterback Wyatt Webb, running backs Gavin Hart and Cody Metzler, and athletes Dylan Seison and Nolan Heiland.
The wing-T Titans feature an inside-outside offensive attack — with counter calls between the tackles to Metzler and Hart, and jet sweep runs with Heiland and Seison.
“They are solid. They’ve got some nice running backs, good athletes. The quarterback runs the ball well. They’ve got a huge line,” said Crabtree.
Still, the third-year mentor and Northwest alum likes his Mohawks’ matchup.
Physically, and with this week, emotionally.
“I still think we match up real well with them, at least athlete for athlete, even though their lines are bigger than ours. But we still have to show up and play our best game. They are tough, they are 5-0, and they are confident. In football, that is half the battle. We’ve been down on confidence lately, but this week for whatever reason, they’ve (Mohawks) turned it back on,” said Crabtree. “If we can find a way to knock off a team that is 5-0 and full of confidence, then that changes the entire tone of things. Our younger kids are stepping up and working hard and playing. It’s just that they are 14 or 15 years old going against 17-or-18-year olds. But it’s exciting to see our kids haven’t given up and are ready to play. We think this game is going to be a good one.”
Notre Dame is actually one of three SOC I unbeatens — as East, which saw its last two games get canceled, is 3-0 —while Symmes Valley, which canceled last week at Fayetteville and this week hosts Huntington with the Green game getting canceled, is 4-0.
But the Mohawks have this one, first and foremost, if they want to successfully defend their outright title.
“We just have to right the ship and fight a way to get one. This is the first time we’ve lost three or four in a row, but the kids have stayed positive, they are watching film, they are working. All you can ask as a coach is that the kids still bring it. Even though things have went bad this year, and you name it, it’s went bad this year, between injuries, turnovers, things happening at key moments,” said Crabtree. “It’s been rough for sure, and we haven’t caught breaks, but sooner or later we’re going to catch one and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved