Lakota West (9-2 in 2013) vs. Loveland (15-0)
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Friday at Miami University’s Yager Stadium
WHAT TO WATCH: This is one of the more interesting matchups of the opening weekend; both teams have a great deal of respect for one another. Loveland is the reigning Division II state champion and the Tigers return a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Watch for senior running back Nate Slagel who returns to action after missing late last season due to an ACL tear. Slagel was the AP Division II state offensive player of the year last season. Loveland junior quarterback Drew Plitt has been very accurate and gained a good deal of experience last season. Senior Giovanni Ricci (Western Michigan) will primarily be a free safety. Lakota West has one of the toughest schedules in recent memory but can’t look ahead. The Firebirds are eager to prove themselves and the players said as much this month. Watch for senior quarterback Blake Darland for the Firebirds, who takes over the position this season. Look for senior linebacker C.J. Stalker (Virginia) to make a significant impact in this game too.
Colerain (12-1) vs. La Salle (3-7)
WHEN/WHERE: 8:30 p.m. Friday at Miami University’s Yager Stadium
WHAT TO WATCH: This is the first matchup between the two teams since 2004. Colerain coach Tom Bolden and La Salle coach Nate Moore hope this game will take place in the future too. Watch for Colerain’s start in this game. The Cardinals had to replace 15 starters from a squad that went 12-1 last season and was a Division I regional semifinalist. Bolden said several sophomores will be in the mix. Watch for senior running back Jordan Asberry. La Salle is expected to be without its defensive leader Jordan Thompson (Northwestern) due to injury, but the Lancers have practiced well this preseason. Watch for junior running back Jeremy Larkin and the Lancers’ wide receiving corps on offense.
Lebanon (7-3) at Kings (7-4)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Kings
WHAT TO WATCH: Lebanon has had recent success in this Boomerang Bowl series but both teams have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Watch for special teams to be a big difference. Lebanon won last year because it was 2-of-2 on field goals (20-17 final score). Kings coach Andy Olds has noticed great chemistry among players on his squad this season. There are 10 starters that return, including senior defensive end/running back Tommy Bruns (Air Force). “This game has turned in to a fun and exciting rivalry for both schools and communities,” Olds said. “And regarding Harbin points, it will boost the winners chances of playing in week 11.”
Lebanon’s defense will be a strength this season; it has looked very good and fast. Junior linebacker Jango Glackin is one of the area’s top players to watch in the 2016 class; West Virginia offered him earlier this month.
Walnut Hills (4-6) vs. Sycamore (6-4)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Walnut Hills
WHAT TO WATCH: The Eagles have senior quarterback Kevin Blount as a three-year starter and coach George Kontsis said he likes what he’s seen in the offseason. Senior center Kameron Johnson is also another player to watch. Sycamore will be very young but coach Scott Dattilo likes the effort, commitment and energy level this offseason. Sophomore running back/linebacker Ra’Von Bonner has an early offer from UC.
Oak Hills (5-5) vs. Elder (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Oak Hills
WHAT TO WATCH: Another intriguing game for the West Side as these two teams haven’t played since 2008. Oak Hills coach Dan Scholz wants the program to take the next step after being 5-5 the past two seasons. The Highlanders would like nothing else than to upset Elder in the season opener. Watch for senior offensive lineman Mason Garrison and senior wide receiver Jason Walters early in the game. Elder won five of their first six games last season and had multiple sophomores play last season so there is plenty of experience returning. Watch for junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey and senior linebacker Kyle Orloff early in this game.
Harrison (7-4) vs. East Central (4-7)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Harrison
1. WHAT TO WATCH: Watch for Harrison senior quarterback Jake Weber, who was the Southwest Ohio Conference offensive player of the year last season. He threw for 1,868 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 785 yards and 17 touchdowns. Junior wide receiver/running back Mitchell Hogue was the second-leading receiver last season and junior running back Alex Anderson was the third-leading rusher. East Central returners 14 players including seven on each side of the ball. Watch to see how physical this game gets early.
Princeton (4-6) at Winton Woods (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. at Winton Woods
WHAT TO WATCH: A much-anticipated matchup, former Winton Woods assistant Calvin Johnson makes his Princeton debut as the head coach. The Vikings are looking for a turnaround in the program and Johnson said he takes a great deal of pride in the tradition of Princeton and has several veteran coaches as assistants to help. Watch for senior wide receiver Elijah Ball early in this game. Winton Woods has several new faces after 24 seniors are gone to graduation. Watch for offensive linemen George Brown (Florida), Noah Listermann (Michigan State) along with senior linebacker David Long early in the game.
McNicholas (9-3) vs. Turpin (4-6)
WHEN/WHERE: 5:30 p.m. Friday at McNicholas
WHAT TO WATCH: The Rockets return plenty of experience including senior quarterback Luke Sulken and senior tailback Sean Byrne. Sulken rushed for 1,088 yards and threw for 952 yards last season. Byrne rushed for 711 yards last season. Turpin coach Rob Stoll said his offense will be improved this season and depth at skill positions such as tailback and good team speed will be key for the Spartans.
Pickerington North (10-2) vs. Moeller (14-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 p.m. at Crew Stadium, Columbus
WHAT TO WATCH: Moeller is the two-time reigning Division I state champions and the Crusaders have plenty of talent again. Moeller is ranked in national polls this preseason (as high as No. 11 by Scout.com) and coach John Rodenberg likes what he’s seen in August. Senior Matt Crable – the son of former Moeller coach Bob Crable – is the starting quarterback. Look for junior tight end Jake Hausmann, senior wide receiver Chase Pankey (Boston College) and senior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor (Notre Dame) early in the game. Pickerington North has lost just two regular-season games the past two seasons, according to This Week News. Watch for senior wide receiver Jaye Williams, who had a team-best 36 receptions for 477 yards last season. Senior Christian Whitner is the team’s quarterback after he played cornerback last season.
Fenwick (6-4) vs. CHCA (11-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 p.m. Saturday at Kings
WHAT TO WATCH: CHCA is ranked No. 1 in The Enquirer Division V area coaches’ poll and the Eagles are eager to prove themselves early in the season. CHCA went 10-0 in the regular season in 2013 and finished 11-1. The players understand the regular-season challenges but also want to be ready for a deep run in the Division V postseason. Senior wide receiver Cam Murry and junior defensive tackle Prince Sammons are among players to watch early in the game. The Falcons return an experienced offensive line and this should be a physical game. Watch for Fenwick senior linebacker Billy Hinton to make an impact.
St. Xavier (5-6) vs. East St. Louis (9-4)
WHEN/WHERE: 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Xavier
WHAT TO WATCH: The Bombers were plagued with injuries last season, but this August gives rise to new promise with this season. St. X is led defensively by senior linebacker Justin Hilliard (Ohio State) who could see some carries in the backfield. Watch for senior running back Ben Glines (Boston College) to make an immediate impact. The Bombers’ quarterback is sophomore Sean Clifford. East St. Louis has about 55 players in the program, according to the Belleville News-Democrat, including 30 freshmen – a stark contrast to St. X. Senior defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. is the top-ranked recruit in Illinois in the 2015 class, according to Rivals.com.
Anderson (3-7) vs. Northwest (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 5 p.m. Saturday at University of Cincinnati’s Sheakley Athletic Center
WHAT TO WATCH: Anderson has a smaller senior class but the players returning are experienced at the skill positions. RB Austin Fucito had a good camp along with QB Dylan Smith on offense. LB Cody Coffey and S Derek Mahlenkamp are helping to lead the defense. “I really enjoy this team,” Anderson coach Jeff Giesting said. “They are a close knit group and are giving us a great effort every day.”
Northwest won the school’s first playoff football game last season and there is plenty of optimism this season. Northwest returns eight defensive players, including senior defensive back Cortez McGinnis, senior Shane Baldwin, senior linebacker Cory McGinnis, senior linebacker Brandon Schon and senior defensive linemen Michael Smith and Thai McCowan. Watch also for senior running back DeVohn Jackson. There are 26 seniors on the roster.