HOWARD — There will be plenty on the line when the Centerburg Trojans take on the undefeated East Knox Bulldogs at Chet Looney Stadium in Howard on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Trojans (4-2 overall, 2-1 KMAC) need this win to stay in the battle for the Knox-Morrow Athletic Conference crown. The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0) want to win out this season and avoid the stumbles they incurred the past two seasons that cost them a shot at the post season.
This critical KMAC matchup is, perhaps, the biggest game between these two schools since a 2005 postseason playoff clash that the Trojans won, on neutral ground, at Yellow Jacket Stadium in Mount Vernon. The Trojans, who lost their 2005 regular season Mid-Buckeye Conference matchup against the Bulldogs (then, coached by the legendary Chet Looney), knocked off East Knox in the second round of the playoffs, 41-20, ending the Bulldogs’ season. The Trojans fell in the next round against Cincinnati Hills Academy, 23-7, that year.
This coming Friday is a must win for the Trojans, who have three convincing wins against Utica, Danville and Mount Gilead, along with a close call win against a 1-and-5 Northridge team. These were are all games that the Trojans were expected to win. They also had a non-league loss to the formidable Lucas Cubs.
East Knox’s crushing, 41-0 win over Northmor last week leaves the Bulldogs with two opponents that could upend their season — the Trojans or the Bulldogs themselves. East Knox has had problems in the late part of the season for the last two years and they’re hoping not to fall victim a sputtering stretch run this season.
East Knox quarterback Kadden Lester (63-for-90, 838 yards) was terrific against Northmor, going 18-for-22 passing, for 130 yards and a touchdown. Lester only tossed one inconsequential interception. East Knox receiver Gage Steinmetz (26 receptions, 309 yards) helped lead the way with seven receptions for 47 yards against the Knights, including a 14-yard touchdown catch. In fact, Lester completed passes to six different receivers.
The Bulldogs’ near flawless execution of their passing game helped unleash running back Caleb Gallwitz, who ran 265 yards on 24 carries, scoring four touchdowns. Gallwitz leads all area runners with 1,492 yards and 156 points.
Nobody expected the Bulldogs’ defense to hold one of the top teams in the KMAC to 167 total yards and not allow them to score a single point. It seemed like everything, including the lunar charts, were going the Bulldogs’ way last week.
“We had a great week of practice for Northmor and, I think, that made a big difference,” said East Knox coach Cody Reese. “Not that we don’t have good weeks of practice, but that one was better than normal.”
“The last two games, the second half has not gone our way. We’ve had big mistakes coming out of the half, whether it be a turnover or poorly timed penalty. We’ve got to limit those and have got to keep being who we are and doing what we do best,” Kerr said.
The Jackets’ offense has done well in the last two losses, averaging 375 yards and 28 points. But, the defense has given up some big plays that ended up hurting the team. Part of the problem, Kerr believes, is not making big plays when they are needed on either side of the ball.
“We’ve got to live for these big moments and have to go make some plays,” Kerr said. “I believe we are a good football team. We’ve just been four or five big plays from showing it. If we can do that, we’ll have a great night.”
The Trojans’ defense, led by Brock Hurtt (28.5 tackles) and Trey Kendrick (24.5 tackles), will have to stop the big play from East Knox. Gallwitz had touchdowns of 57 yards and 69 yards last week. The Trojans will have all they can handle with the Bulldogs sizable offensive line and superior downfield blocking that facilitates long running plays.
“We’ll have to be sound — assignment-wise and fundamentally,” said Centerburg Trojans’ coach Andy Colella. “If we can do that and tackle as well, we will have the best possible chance to be successful.”
In the meantime, the Bulldogs’ kicking and punting team might watch out for Centerburg running back Donnell Marshall, who broke an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start last Friday’s game against Mount Gilead. Marshall also has 600 yards rushing this season.
The East Knox defense will try to stop a Trojans’ offense that is capable of striking on the ground or in the air. Centerburg quarterback Jack Gregory’s passing stats, from last week, compared favorably to Lester’s. Gregory went 15-for-21 against Mount Gilead, throwing for 177 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pair of picks. Centerburg receiver Hayden Sutton caught seven of Gregory’s passes for 88 yards, including both TD grabs. Gavin Wilson had three receptions for 43 yards for the Trojans, against Mount Gilead. Currently Lester and Gregory are rated first and third, respectively, among area quarterbacks, with the biggest difference being that Gregory has tossed five interceptions to Lester’s one, this season.
Marshall — 11 rushes for 62 yards last week — heads up a capable stable of Trojan ball carriers. Expect to see some combination of Tyler Johnson (5-for-48, last week), Trey Kendrick (10-for-47), along with Jarred Rings and Preston Barber. If the Trojans execute their passing game, at least as well as they did last Friday, that could open up some extra opportunities for the ground game.
“We have a good backfield,” Colella said. “We’ve also been able to spread it around a bit on the edges and that has helped us out tremendously.”
Centerburg’s 27-21 loss to Northmor three weeks ago may be something to think about. While Marshall had 22 carries for 117 yards in that game, he and Kendrick (five yards), were the only backs who had positive running yards for Centerburg.
Gregory attempted 32 passes against Northmor, which is a bit high. Although he had 20 completions, he also threw for four interceptions. Northmor’s Wyatt Reeder made a pair of big play touchdown receptions in the second half against the Trojans, putting the Knights ahead to stay.
The Bulldogs passed last week’s test against Northmor with flying colors. In order to pass this week, they will have to continue to execute on both sides of the ball.
“We just have to work to improve in any area that we can,” Reese said. “If we’re not getting better every day, we’re getting worse.”
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