Danville at Lucas, Friday, 7 p.m.
Danville (12-2 2017) reached the Division VII state semifinals last season before falling to Cuyahoga Heights, 38-8, and return quite a few contributors this season. A major player not still with the team is QB Skyler Durbin, who passed for 2,331 yards and 22 TDs and ran for 814 yards and seven scores. Chris Greenawalt, who will probably get more touches this year, is the top returning back, and Corbin Hazen will try to better his 53 catches and 802 yards from last season. The Blue Devils also graduated some important defensive players, but Greenawalt will anchor the middle. How well the new signal-caller integrates into the offense may be the key to the season.
Lucas (8-3 2017) is coming off a four-year playoff run, headed by former Mount Vernon coach Scott Spitler. After last year’s 20-19 first-round playoff loss to Glouster Trimble, the Cubs return seven starters on offense, including starting QB Logan Niswander, RB Jeb Grover, a Second Team All-District selection last season, four of five offensive linemen and seven on defense. All-state lineman Jimmy Sweat graduated, and most of the returning linemen are under 6-feet tall, so they will have to rely on quickness and athleticism rather than brute force. Lucas’s schedule has four 2017 playoff teams on it, Danville, Northmor, Hannibal River and Lima Central Catholic.
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East Knox at West Muskingum, Friday, 7 p.m.
East Knox (7-3 2017) was on its way to Division VI playoff berth last season with a 7-0 record, but lost its final three games to just miss out. The Bulldogs lost only six seniors to graduation, and return the heart of their offense in QB Kadden Lester (2,106 yds., 19 TDs), RB Kasson Krownapple (1,001 yds., 156 pts.) and WR Caleb Gallwitz (46 rec., 646 yds.). The offensive and defensive lines are experienced, with five two-year or more letterwinners. On defense, Dawson David, the co-leader in sacks and tackles, also returns to lead a young defense. With the offense settled, the defense will have to come around to keep East Knox in the KMAC hunt.
West Muskingum (0-10 2017) has not won a game since Sept. 12, 2015, losing 27 straight games. The Tornadoes were shut out three times in 2017, and reached double-digit totals just twice, once in a 61-34 loss to 1-9 Morgan. West Muskingum played a difficult schedule, with seven teams with a .500 or better record and three playoff teams, one being Division III state runner-up Tri-Valley. Seven opponents were also in a larger division. Inexperience will be a factor, as the team has only two seniors among its skill positions, but they have many seniors on the offensive and defensive lines. This week’s foe, East Knox, defeated the Tornadoes in last season’s opener, 33-6.
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Fredericktown at Clear Fork, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Fredericktown (5-5 2017) got its 2017 going a little late, going 2-5 before closing the season on a three-game win streak. The Freddies lost QB Jimmy Nussbaum, their leading passer (872 yds., 10 TDs) and rusher (697 yds.), but senior Jack Fitzpatrick is poised to replace him under center. John Robbins gained 554 yards last season, and will shoulder more of a load, and the Freddies will have to find some pass catchers to replace graduated receiving leaders Zayde Zolman and Xavier Stallard. A lot of the team’s defensive stars also graduated, leaving Fitzpatrick, Stallard, Jake Partington and Terry Fearn to take up the slack.
Clear Fork (11-1 2017) got out of the big-school Ohio Cardinal Conference last season, and the Colts returned to their former glory by going undefeated in Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference play and going two weeks deep in the Division IV playoffs. The offense was stellar, averaging 32.4 points per game, but the defense was the strength of the team, giving up just 10.6 points a contest and holding five teams under double digits. Five members of that defense were All-MOAC last season, and three are back this season. MOAC First Teamer Hunter Tollison leads a beefy offensive line which includes four seniors and boasts five members over 225 pounds.
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Highland at Bloom-Carroll, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Highland (8-3 2017) returns a vast amount of experience from last year’s playoff squad, with 15 seniors and 11 juniors. QB Reese Weissenfluh is back, as is leading receiver Isaiah Stoneburner, but the Scots will rely most heavily on a devastating running game that boasts three of the top 10 leading rushers from 2017 in Brody Matthews (1,133 yds.), Jack Weaver (939 yds.) and Brock Veley (689 yds., 11.5 ypc.). The defense retains leading tackler Tate Tobin, and Clay Matthews and Stoneburner will head up the secondary. Highland has the depth to withstand some injuries, and has an excellent chance to make the playoffs one more time.
Bloom-Carroll (8-3 2017) will play Highland for the third-consecutive season opener Friday, and will try to make it three in a row after victories in 2016 and a 35-34 overtime triumph last season. The Bulldogs are also coming off of two straight playoff appearances, although each was a first-round loss. Third Team All-Ohio QB Otto Kuhns returns after combining for a 3,000-yard, 34 TD sophomore season, but he is the only returning starter on offense. Kuhn is also one of four returning starters on defense, which has changed from a four-man to a three-man front. Getting off to a good start will be important if Bloom-Carroll will get to a third-straight playoff.