UTICA — Execution will be the key ingredient, when the East Knox Bulldogs (1-0) hit the road Friday and meet the Utica Redskins (0-1) in their home opener. The Bulldogs consistently executed on both sides of the ball in their 41-0 win over Northridge in their home opener last week.
“It was exciting to watch,” said East Knox head football coach Cody Reese. “We felt we could do some nice things. Of course, there are some areas where we could have done better and others that were pleasant surprises.”
The Redskins’ defense will need to figure out how to keep a lid on East Knox running back Caleb Gallwitz, who ran all over Northridge for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
Utica’s defensive unit will need to regroup after giving up 561 yards to the Centerburg Trojans in last week’s 52-6 loss. It will be tough against Gallwitz and the Bulldogs’ offense, led by quarterback Kadden Lester, who can strike quickly. Last week, Lester hit receiver Cade Leach on a pair of touchdown passes, including one of 55 yards. This, along with Gallwitz touchdown runs of 47 and 89 yards show what the Bulldogs can do when they get their hands on the ball.
“Anytime you can keep someone off balance and they don’t know what they are going to see, that’s critical,” Reese said. “It can open some things up for you. We just have to figure out what Utica’s defense is trying to take away from us and make the adjustments. That’s something that you never know until game night. (Utica) has some big linemen upfront. We just have to stay disciplined and focus on the fundamentals.”
The biggest key for Utica’s defense will be to not allow any Bulldogs to get behind them. Never mind trying to win the battle over time of possession. Northridge had the ball twice as long as East Knox in their matchup, but that is only half the battle. Utica will need to limit the Bulldogs’ ground game, force Lester to throw and pressure him into making mistakes. That is all easier said than done.
On offense, the Bulldogs have the capacity to score from anywhere on the field and by any means. Up 20-0 at the half, last week, the Bulldogs came out of the locker room and started the second half by scoring a pair of touchdowns in a little over two-and-a-half minutes, which got the 30-point game clock going. Another good performance from Gallwitz would set up receivers like Leach and Gage Steinmetz to have a big game.
The Utica offense will need to watch fumbles and key penalties. Provided they can do that, they will need to get positive rushing yards out of the non-quarterback spots. Utica quarterback Collin McCullough had 39 yards on 15 rushes. The Redskins will need Brier Harris, Valyn Dague, Caleb Lybarger, Ethan Adams and others to grind out yardage and the clock. Perhaps this will be a better week for Utica’s backfield. Northridge managed to roll up over 200 yards rushing, between five players, against the Bulldogs’ defense. That kind of running will keep the ball out of the hands of Gallwitz & Company, giving them less time to create havoc.
“We are just focusing on us right now,” said Utica coach Charley Rowley. “We are just trying to get better at what we do on our side of the ball. I believe that a team makes its biggest improvement between week one and week two of the season.”
If Utica can establish a ground game against the Bulldogs’ 3-3-1 stack defense, McCullough might have more opportunities to throw, like he did last Friday, when he connected with Adams for a 71-yard touchdown pass.
“I’m excited to see how our guys are going to come back and respond, this week.” Rowley said. “I know they going to respond well. East Knox will have speed and athleticism on the field. We will have to counter that. We’ll have to block and tackle well. The biggest thing is that we can’t give up big plays. We have to make them earn it.”