MINFORD — It’s no secret that the Minford Falcons face a larger-size school this week with Washington Court House in town —and at a faster pace preferred by the visiting Blue Lions.
Thus, it’s a challenge Minford must meet —and can do so actually at a preferred, and proverbial, snail’s pace of its own.
In a true contrast in styles in which Washington’s speed, athleticism and finesse face the Falcons’ physicality, the undefeated Falcons face their toughest to date against an entirely different offensive philosophy —as Minford welcomes Washington for an important non-conference contest inside the Falcons’ Nest.
The Division III Blue Lions are 2-1 while the Division V Falcons are 3-0, as not only it’s a confidence pick-me-up prior to two weeks away with league play opening for both, but also an impressive Ohio High School Athletic Association computer points pickup to the winner.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Minford High School.
Last season, Minford went 6-4 while Washington went 4-6, as their scheduled affair at the Blue Lions’ den was canceled because of a coronavirus situation.
Two years ago, speaking of coronavirus, that impacted campaign actually saw the Falcons and Blue Lions play in the opener at Minford—with the Falcons winning 26-25.
But beyond the likes of then-freshman running back Jeffrey Pica, and then-sophomore and standout stalwart linebacker Hunter Pendleton, none of these present and youthful Falcons saw significant snaps against those Blue Lions.
Pica and Pendleton are now experienced three-year starters for Minford, as with only four seniors, including the six-foot and four-inch and 230-pound Pendleton, the top-heavy junior and sophomore-laden Falcons are essentially two full seasons in —and paying dues are paying dividends.
Minford’s 3-0 start includes three one-sided wins over run-oriented clubs — 33-14 at 2-1 Rock Hill, 41-7 against 2-1 Chesapeake, and 53-12 at winless Wellston.
“Each team we’ve faced of the first three have given us different challenges, and we are somewhat of a young team in terms of age, but we’ve got a lot of guys outside of the quarterback position that had a lot of varsity experience entering the year. Each week, we’ve improved,” said Minford head coach Jesse Ruby, in an interview on Wednesday. “I thought we made quite a few mistakes in the first game, but going into Chesapeake, I felt like we improved on those things. Last week, I thought we got better from the Chesapeake game. We’re just looking to get better each week.”
But the Blue Lions, literally and figuratively, are an entirely different animal.
Since forming the Frontier Athletic Conference with five other schools five years ago, their profile has been of greater visibility — as their offense features a spread-the-field formation and pass-oriented attack.
In the same division (III) as the FAC’s Hillsboro, and division (III) and region (11) as other conference rivals including Chillicothe, Jackson and Miami Trace, the Blue Lions are usually playing bigger schools than the Falcons —but Washington’s white-washing of Paint Valley (48-0) was over a Division VI squad.
Their other win was 35-6 in the opener against Division III Bexley, before losing in a 54-40 shootout against undefeated Western Brown —the top-rated Region 12 team to date and with highly-touted quarterback Drew Novak.
Against Paint Valley, quarterback Troy Thompson was 13-of-15 for 306 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions — with wide receiver Calum Brown totaling three receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns.
“From all the things that I’ve read and seen on them, they (Blue Lions) are a pass-first team, which presents different challenges for us. Our secondary will be tested much more than it has been in the previous weeks,” said Ruby.
Ruby expanded upon the Blue Lions’ weaponry and pace, having watched the film from their Western Brown and Paint Valley games.
“They run everything,” said the coach. “I’ve seen everything from two-by-two, spread and one back in the backfield to three-by-one with one back in the backfield. Then they will also go two-by-one with a tight end or an H-back in the backfield next to the running back. Not very often do they line somebody up at tight end. Their receivers are usually detached from the formation.”
One of those is highly-touted and talented tight end Tanner Lemaster, a two-time all-Southeast District first-team wide receiver — who stands a tall 6-6, weighs 235 pounds, and has already committed to the University of Kentucky.
Ruby also mentioned running backs Tre Jackson and Rocky Jones, and wideouts Michael Bearden and Brown.
Thompson, of course, is the signal-caller engineering this Blue Lion bonanza.
Ruby admitted to Washington’s talent, but more importantly for his Falcons to be assignment-sound.
“I think a lot of it is not beating ourselves with missed assignments. That can be in the secondary defensively, or even up front offensively. Our interior six, our down four and our two inside linebackers, they’ve got some talented running backs by committee to account for. They have some good skilled running backs that if they break free, then can definitely hurt you,” he said. “They have a lot speed and a lot of athleticism. The quarterback gets rid of the football really fast, does a good job of quick decision-making, releases the football quickly, and their offensive line does a really good job of making a nice pocketing for him. And if you blitz them, then you can be wrong, and he (Thompson) throws where you blitzed from.”
Perhaps, as is often the case in these diverse-style matchups, is for the power-based Falcons to play a good old-fashioned game of keep-away —and keep the Blue Lion offense off the field.
That means Minford must maintain ball control, craft possessions together of double-digits in number of plays, and consume the clock.
The Falcons not only must play physical and sustain drives —but finish those drives and put points on the scoreboard.
“I think that’s going to be huge,” said Ruby. “Whenever you are facing a really fast and athletic team like this, who can score from anywhere on the field, one of the best things you can do is limit their amount of offensive touches. Controlling the clock and sustaining drives, and not making mistakes with turnovers and penalties, is going to be very important for us. We need to focus on ourselves and not beat ourselves, so those holding penalties or fast-start penalties or those bad reads or missed assignments where we lose yardage, those are all key components for us winning.”
Speaking of which, the Falcons have done that so far for three games — and would like to continue that trend, with larger-school Washington Court House coming calling.
“They’ve (Blue Lions) have played so well this year, and even against Western Brown in a loss, they scored 40 points. I am curious to see how our kids respond to playing a team of this caliber,” said Ruby. “I think that will tell us how we will match up against some of the teams in the SOC (Southern Ohio Conference) II.”