Opponents understand the playmaking abilities of Tri-Valley seniors Nathan Strock and Austin Jones.
Yet, the Scotties’ potent offense has more weapons at their disposal thanks to an experienced group of receivers.
Five players have caught at least 16 passes and seven have a touchdown pass for top-seeded Tri-Valley, which looks for its 12th consecutive win of the season against No. 4 seed New Albany in a Division II regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Zanesville’s Sulsberger Stadium.
The production of the receivers will be important against the Eagles, who have lost the past two meetings with the Scotties. Coach Justin Buttermore said the group brings plenty to the table.
“Collectively, this is the most athletic group we have had,” he said. “None of them is what you would call a burner, but they have speed as a group. Defenses can’t key on one guy, and we have confidence in any of them to make a play.”
Tri-Valley lost two of its top receivers entering the season. Senior Trevor Krouskoupf has become Strock’s go-to target with 40 receptions for 737 yards and 11 touchdowns, senior Kris Michael has 25 catches, Jones and senior Devin Moran have 17 each, and sophomore Hunter Mohler has added 16.
Their size — Mohler is the tallest at 6-foot-2, Krouskoupf is 6-0, Michael 5-9 and Moran 5-6 — might not be imposing, but Michael said the receivers use that to their advantage.
“Other teams will underestimate us,” he said. “We’re always prepared and we work against the (defensive) starters every day in practice. We want to face our best players so we push ourselves to get better.”
Unselfish play also has allowed each receiver to thrive. Moran recalled Krouskoupf making a block downfield last week that led to a big gain for himself. Those plays are why the receivers remain content with their roles.
“We wouldn’t be anything if the offensive line wasn’t giving Strock time,” Moran said. “We are out there helping each other. (Buttermore) emphasizes doing the little things, and we are just as happy when one of us makes a big play as we are with scoring a touchdown ourselves.”
The Eagles have their own version of a high-powered offense that is averaging 39 points per game in a nine-game winning streak. Senior quarterback Darron Lee (6-3, 205) can make big plays with his legs, and senior Alan Watson (5-9, 175) and junior Leslie Anoyke (5-8, 180) are a combination of speed and power out of the backfield.
Although the Scotties have limited the Eagles’ running game in the past, Buttermore noticed an improved New Albany team.
“Their quarterback has the ability to break the big run, and their tailback and fullback add speed to their backfield,” Buttermore said. “They are more explosive so we have to prevent the big plays. We can’t afford to get behind because that will be a huge advantage for them.”
A 15-minute road trip will play into Tri-Valley’s favor, and New Albany enjoys an hour-plus trip to Zanesville. Buttermore hopes staying close to home will benefit his team.
“We can go with our normal routine after school,” he said. “It was a great year for the Muskingum Valley League, as well as Zanesville and Rosecrans. I expect a big crowd and know we will have plenty of support from the area.
“This is special for the community to be able to hold a game like this, and I hope we can take advantage of it.”
Moran said the Scotties have to remain focused on the game.
“It’s going to be awesome playing 15 minutes away,” he said.
It begins with a better start. New Carlisle Tecumseh scored on its first play of scrimmage and returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first 2:10 of the game for a 14-6 lead. Tri-Valley easily recovered in a 49-27 win, but a return trip to a regional final will need a team effort.
“We don’t want to get down on each other. If we do, the hole will just get deeper,” Michael said. “We have faith in each other. Like Coach Buttermore tells us, we need 11 to work as one instead of one working as 11.”