Lakota at Hopewell-Loudon
Records: Lakota 2-2, 0-1 MAL; Hopewell-Loudon 2-2, 1-0 MAL.
Coaches: Lakota, Dave Vodika; Hopewell-Loudon, Jeremy Nutter
Last year: Hopewell-Loudon 49, Lakota 20.
Outlook: They've taken similar steps forward and back so far this year, but H-L hopes to stay a step ahead Friday by shoring up its defense and maintaining last week's balanced offensive attack.
"Our No. 1 focus has been getting better every day and being a better football team. I think it's put us in a position to be 1-0 in the league (last week) and win on Friday," Nutter said.
The Chieftains did that by rebounding from a 35-7 non-conference loss to Northwood by thumping North Baltimore in the MAL-opener last week. The step forward came from more than 300 yards of total offense gained via a very balanced attack.
And while the passing game has started to consistently click, Nutter said he hopes Mark Bouillon can match last week's breakout performance (142 yards rushing, 3 TDs).
"We'd like to get him the ball as much as possible," Nutter said.
"He's certainly capable of that. I'm glad the ball's not heavy because we'd like to give it to him 35 times a game," he said. "We'll find different ways to get him the ball. Even if you know it's coming, he's not easy to stop."
The Chieftains rank second in the MAL in rushing behind only Carey (215 ypg) and third in total offense (352 ypg).
The Raiders, meanwhile, have their own issues to work out.
Lakota enters Friday ranked seventh in total offense (227 ypg) because of an anemic passing game ranked dead last in the league at 24.8 yards per game.
"Our passing is not good and we're getting nine in the box (against us) now. We're dusting off Colin Timmons and testing Kody Brewer (at quarterback)," Vodika said.?Our receivers have got to start catching the ball," he said.
And everyone has to start playing consistently better, he added.
Vodika said the Raiders took a major step backward in last week's loss to Calvert and trying to turn that around against the Chieftains, who have built themselves into league and playoff contenders for the past decade, won't come easily.
But it's one more step toward the ultimate goal of turning around a struggling program.
"This is a good group of kids. It takes a lot to learn to win and be consistent," Vodika said. "I don't know what specifically was our problem last week. We had some things not go well and we just seemed to crawl into our shell.
"It's frustrating because, like we said, we want the boys to play well, we want to do well and we want them to be competitive," he said.
And there's one area where the Raiders can be competitive, it's in the run game.
Lakota is ranked fourth in the league in running the ball at 202.3 yards per game and will go up against a defense sitting seventh across the board in defense (172 ypg rushing, 157.3 ypg passing, 329.3 ypg overall).
It's not a stat Nutter takes lightly, especially with shifty Tiger Jaso running the ball for the Raiders.
"We are going to have to be sound in our alignments. We'll have to be gap-sound," he said.
"Our kids have heard about that," he said. "If you play No. 7 defense against the Lakota offense, you'll give up points."
North Baltimore at Mohawk
Records: North Baltimore 1-3, 0-1 MAL; Mohawk 1-3, 0-1.
Coaches: North Baltimore, Dino Woodruff; Mohawk, Erik Baker.
Last year: Mohawk 27, North Baltimore 12.
Outlook: Baker said his team's chances at success Friday against the Tigers can be boiled down to one word:
"Fundamentals," the Mohawk coach said. "If you can't block and tackle, the rest of it doesn't matter."
Baker said the Warriors need to be sound against North Baltimore do-everything back Dalton Ishmael.
"Dalton Ishmael might be best athlete in our league this year," Baker said.
The Mohawk coach said Woodruff puts Ishmael everywhere on the field, offensively and defensively. The North Baltimore star had run for 358 yards this season, averaging almost eight yards a carry. He's caught four passes for 32 yards.
And defensively, "They move him to where they think you'll put the ball," Baker said. "Ishmael's a home-run threat; he probably drives the bus over."
But Ishmael isn't the only thing about the Tigers that concerns Baker.
"They have good size at line positions," he said. "We'll have to beat them with quickness and fundamentals for us to have a chance."
Whatever Mohawk does Friday, it's pretty much a certainty that quarterback Drew Loose will be in the middle of it. Loose is second in the MAL in passing yards, with 563and three touchdowns. He also has run for 266 yards.
"His athleticism is special," Baker said. "We try to do with him what Calvert tried to do with (Nate) Ritzler (last season); he's a dual threat."
Carey at Fremont St. Joe
Records: Carey 3-1, 1-0 Midland Athletic League; St. Joe 3-1, 1-0 MAL.
Coaches: Carey, Todd Worst; St. Joe, Scott Knisely.
Last year: Carey 55, St. Joe 14
Outlook: It's a styles clash, plain and simple.
Carey, which runs a version of the wishbone, likes to run, run and run some more. St. Joe, which runs a pass-first version of the spread, gets involved in shootouts, like last week when it bested Seneca East in the final minute.
But for all the differences, there is a major similarity between the programs this season: the records.
The Streaks and Blue Devils each enter play with a 3-1 mark and a 1-0 MAL record. Even though it's early, Saturday night's contest could go a long way to deciding the league champion.
Carey will need to find a way to slow Streaks' quarterback Zack Yeckley, the reigning MAL Offensive Player of the Week. He threw for 267 yards and five TDs last week, and has thrown for about 500 yards more than any MAL QB this season.
"I think, offensively, they execute pretty well," Worst said of St. Joe. "They have a quarterback more consistent than the teams we've seen so far."
So how do you stop Yeckley? Simple. Don't let him have the ball. Lucky for the Blue Devils, they have an offense designed for just that.
"For us it will be ball control from our offense," Worst said. "We need to keep the ball away from them as much as we can."
When the defense is on the field, Worst said he's looking for consistency.
"We need to make our reads and not guess at our option reads," he said.
Riverdale at Buckeye Central
Records: Riverdale, 2-2, 1-0 NCC; Buckeye Central 1-3, 1-1 NCC
Coaches: Jeremy Kloepfer, Riverdale; Jason Ratliff, Buckeye Central
Last year: Buckeye Central smacked Riverdale, 40-6.
Outlook: Sure the score was a 34-0 shutout at the hands of Wynford, but Ratliff feels his team played well.
"I thought we played one of our better games," Ratliff said. "I know the score didn't reflect it but we played for all four quarters for maybe the first time this year. ... I hope we're starting to figure out some things and doing things like we're supposed to be doing."
It was also the first game that the Bucks had Kameron Jones under center.
"I like how he ran the football. He's very athletic and he gives us more stability at (cornerback)," he said. "He's one of our starters from last year at corner."
If the Bucks are going to dip into the win column this week, they'll have to snuff out a potent Riverdale attack.
"They have good skills kids. That's what causes a lot of concern. They have four or five guys who touch the ball and they all do different things," Ratliff said. "The key for us is knowing who's in the backfield and what they're trying to run with that particular running back."
The key cogs to the Riverdale attack are Josh Bushong (239 yards rushing), Seth Knoll (204 yards rushing) and Dillon Farrow (308 yards passing). Bushong has five touchdowns and Knoll has three.
Ratliff said the Falcons pose some issues on defense as well, where Riverdale has been a Jekyll and Hyde, giving up 43 points in both losses this year, while giving up only a combined 22 in their pair of wins.
"Defensively they bounce around a lot with a lot of different fronts," Ratliff said. "We have to look at what we get on Friday night and attack that whatever way we can."
Fostoria at Otsego
2012: Fostoria 0-4, 0-1 NBC; Otsego 2-2, 1-0 NBC.
Coaches: Jim Kelly, Fostoria; Erik Johnson, Otsego.
Last year: Fostoria 13, Otsego 9.
Outlook: It's been a brutally difficult start to the season for Fostoria. The Redmen are 0-4, with two shutouts, three defeats to 4-0 teams and last week's 58-7 loss highlighted by Genoa's Cody Pickard kicking a state-record six field goals.
"It's been a tough stretch. I knew it would be somewhat like this, but we'll get it," Kelly said.
"They know that we're in league play and we have to get back at it. The hardest thing for us is, we're hurt. We're plugging guys in," he said. "It's good experience for them. It's going to make us better all the way around."
The Redmen will get to see how much better this Friday on a trip to 2-2 Otsego, which opened NBC play by manhandling Rossford 67-19 last week.
Despite the Knights' .500 mark, Kelly said Otsego is much better than the team Fostoria beat last year to snap a 19-game losing streak.
He said the Knights will pose another week's worth of challenges on the strength of a talented, veteran quarterback, a stable of good receivers and a basic, yet formidable 4-3 defense anchored by big linemen.
"They're a good football team, but we've played some unbelievable good football teams and we hope that helps us this week," Kelly said.
"We've got to line up and we've got to work at it. We've got to have effort different than we did last week," he said. "We played better in the second half and we need more of that, we need a complete-game effort."
Upper Sandusky at Ontario
Records: Upper Sandusky (2-2, 0-1 NCC Black); Ontario (2-2, 1-0 NCC Black)
Coaches: Upper Sandusky, Jake Moyer; Ontario Scott Kreger
Last Year: Ontario 41, Upper Sandusky 14
Outlook: Up, down. Up, down. That's the pattern Upper Sandusky has followed through the first four games this season. A big win, followed by a disappointing loss.
"We're rather schizophrenic in our approach to the games," Moyer said. " We've joked about it with our kids. We've gone hot, cold, hot, cold. So this week we're due to be hot. Hopefully that happens.
"That comes a little bit from inexperience, and some of it comes from noting being consistent with our approach to the game."
Moyer says he thinks the problem is more mental rather than anything practice related. Either way, the team will have give a top level performance when the Rams travel to Ontario Friday.
"I really think it's a mental approach with the kids," he said. "We've coached our brains out, and the kids have tried rally hard. We're trying to establish some consistency. It depends some times on matchups, trying to get a really good idea of what they do well, which (for Ontario) is run the ball. They don't throw the ball as much as some other teams we have trouble with."
Ontario is the North Central Conference's top rushing team averaging 311 yards a game. However, Moyer feels that plays into the strength of his defense.
"I really think it does; I really think it helps us a little bit," he said. "Last week (Galion) was a pass first, run second deal and we struggled with that. Now were tying to right the ship and adjust accordingly to what they do well and what we do well."