Riordin Stauffer of Fairbanks brings down a Northeastern ball carrier. The 2-0 Panthers will face West Liberty (2-0) tonight on the Tigers’ field. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
A key Ohio Heritage Conference football game will feature the roar of the “Big Cats” in Champaign County tonight.
The Fairbanks Panthers will take their 2-0 record into West Liberty-Salem, which is also unbeaten after a pair of games.
Both squads are 1-0 in the OHC North Division and are tied with Mechanicsburg (2-0, 1-0).
The West Liberty Tigers will run a power spread offense that likes to first establish its ground game.
Quarterback Christian Griffith leads the team in offensive yards.
He’s thrown for 398 yards and rushed for 115.
“Griffith can hurt you with his arm and his legs,” said Fairbanks head coach Patrick Cotter.
Griffith, however, isn’t the only Tiger threat.
“They’ve got weapons all over the field,” said Cotter.
Running back Isaiah McGill has picked up 106 yards on 28 carries.
Receivers Nick Burden and Jace Wade have combined for 20 receptions, good for 247 yards.
Cotter said the Panthers’ defensive game plan won’t be much different from last week’s victory over Northeastern.
“We’ve just got to read our keys and play fundamental defense,” he said. “We’ve also got to have great tackling.”
West Liberty’s defense isn’t fancy, according to the Panther head coach.
The Tigers will employ a 4-2-5 alignment that can shift into a 44.
“They have a very good defensive lineman in Logan Godwin,” said Cotter. “He can really create a lot of havoc.”
Linebackers McGill and Jake Wilcoxen run well to the ball, according to the FHS coach.
“Stay on schedule” is a phrase in football coach-speak that most team bosses use.
It simply means the offense cannot get bogged down by penalties or lose possession via turnovers.
Cotter has long been a proponent of that philosophy.
It’s something he learned from his Marysville High School coach Rich Weiskircher.
“We got behind the chains a little bit early in the game against Northeastern,” said Cotter. “We’ve got to be able to establish our own running game and keep moving the chains.”
The Panthers showed a great deal of intestinal fortitude by rallying from a 13-0 deficit to defeat the Jets.
Just what did that tell Cotter about his team?
Nothing that he didn’t expect.
“We’ve been down by 13 in the past,” he said. “However, we’ve got experienced players who don’t panic.
“I’ll admit it made me a little nervous,” said Cotter. “However, these guys have a great deal of confidence in what we do and it didn’t scare them.”
Cotter said the key to victory is to not have a slow start like the Panthers did a week ago.
“We’ve got to start fast and keep going,” he said. “We’ve got to get our defense off the field as quickly as possible and we have to move the ball.”
The Panther boss said a victory is vital for the team’s 2020 future.
“A win against West Liberty-Salem will keep setting us up for the rest of the season,” he said.
“I’ve always said the OHC North is one of the best small school football divisions in the state,” said Cotter. “This is a game in which we can keep testing ourselves.”
Friday’s contest will mark the midway point of the six-game regular season schedule.
The Panthers will finish the regular campaign with a home game against Triad on Sept. 18, on the road at Mechanicsburg on Sept. 25 and at home against West Jefferson on Oct. 2.
The regular season finale will also be Homecoming.
The Panthers will then turn their attention to the post-season.
Due to the coronavirus and shortened regular season, the Ohio High School Athletic Association has opened the playoffs to every team in the state.
The OHSAA will announce regional alignments for the post-season next week.
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