Fairbanks quarterback Jacob Nicol (5) picks up yardage against West Liberty-Salem. The Panthers will host Triad on Friday.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
A pair of local high school football teams are renewing a conference rivalry on Friday when the Triad Cardinals travel to Fairbanks.
The neighboring schools were long-time rivals when both were affiliates of the old West Central Ohio Conference.
The Cardinals moved to the Ohio Heritage Conference when the WCOC disbanded in the late 1990s.
Fairbanks went to the Buckeye Athletic Conference, moved on to the Northwest Central Conference and was then a member of the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference.
This is the first year for the Panther gridiron squad to play in the OHC.
The teams have had markedly opposite seasons to date.
The Panthers will carry a 4-4 record into the contest, which will be senior night for them.
The Cardinals have struggled to a 1-7 mark.
Fairbanks coach Patrick Cotter said his team’s defense will have to key on Cardinal playmakers Cameron Atchison, Isaiah Bruce and Andy Martin in the spread offense.
“Those are the guys that their quarterback (Jordan Simonelli) tries to get the ball to,” said Cotter. “We will see some 2 x 2 and 3 x 1, along with an empty backfield in their spread. They can move the ball.
“Our defense must be gap sound and pursue the football.”
Triad coach Joe Cardinal admits that Fairbanks’ pass-oriented spread offense will put pressure on his defensive backs.
“They like to throw the ball,” said Cardinal. “They will put out five wide and make you tackle them in space.
“We’ve got to put pressure on their quarterback (Jacob Nicol) and we can’t have any coverage breakdowns,” he said. “Fairbanks’ offense will exploit you and they will find open receivers such as Tyler Beem.
“They will present match-up challenges in space,” said Cardinal. “They have a lot of speed in their skill positions and they are very athletic up front. Their tackles and guards can get out in space and make blocks downfield.
“We have to force Fairbanks into some turnovers,” he said. “Third down is going to be important. Our defense has to get off the field.”
Cotter said the Cardinals have shown both a 4-3 defense and a three-man front.
“I think they will go with a three-man front against us,” said Cotter. “They like to blitz and spill their ends (Riley Louck and Bruce).
“We’ve got to continue to protect Jacob, so he can pick his spots and get the ball to our receivers.”
While the Cardinals have been able to move the pigskin, there have been issues of finishing possessions on a positive note.
“We’ve got to be able to sustain drives,” said Cardinal. “We will have to try and put points on the board early against a very physical Fairbanks football team.
“Third down is also going to be very important for us on offense,” he said.
Cardinal said his squad is holding up well, considering the rough season it has experienced.
“We knew going in that the OHC was going to be tough again this year,” he said. “Because of injuries, we’ve had to play a number of guys who weren’t expecting to play a lot this season.
“Guys like Jacob Simonelli (safety), Ian Crabtree (cornerback), Jacob Jenkins (inside linebacker) and J.C. Alexander (outside linebacker-safety hybrid) have all had to step up because of injuries.
“We’re playing a lot of sophomores and juniors and every snap has been a challenge,” said Cardinal. “Still, we’re looking at this season as starting to build a foundation for the future.”
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