GAME OF THE WEEK: RYLE (2-9) at COOPER (3-8)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 Friday at Cooper Stadium, Union.
Ryle will be ushering in a new era of Raiders football when new head coach Mike Engler coaches his first game tonight against Cooper.
The former Lexington Catholic offensive coordinator has made a major overhaul when it comes to Ryle’s offensive philosophy – transitioning the Raiders from a ball-control Woody Hayes-esque “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense under former coach Bryson Warner to an up-tempo spread system that Chip Kelly would approve of.
“We want to run at least 75-plus plays per game and no-huddle probably about 85 percent of the time,” Engler said Wednesday night at Ryle’s meet the coach night. “The kids have had to pick up signals, they’ve had to pick up words, and all kinds of calls… and they’ve done an excellent job of it. We’ve got a lot of smart kids.”
The responsibility of running this high-octane offense will fall on the shoulders of senior quarterback Ryan Rytlewski. He’ll be relying on an offensive line that returns four starters – Logan Ross, Tucker Teepen, Nick Yowan and Tristan Hall – to give him some time to get comfortable in the new system. Expect junior running back Collin England to emerge as a go-to option in the backfield, as well.
The Raiders’ new offense should get a great test in their first game, as Cooper has developed a reputation for having tough, physical defenses under the direction of Randy Borchers. The Jags expect their defense to be their calling card again in 2014. It all starts up front with junior Marcus Watson, who is a returning starter on the line that recorded 56 tackles last year and can really be disruptive when he’s at his best. Junior Elliott Smith will join him after starting and recording 55 tackles as a sophomore.
Cooper will be feeling out the quarterback position through the first few games as sophomore Dante Hendrix and senior Billy Prickett have battled it out all preseason with no clear-cut starter emerging. Hendrix will slide over to receiver and remain a key playmaker even if he’s not under center. The Jaguars are also looking for junior Torrey Cordell-Armstrong to bounce back with a big year after contributing in a major way as a sophomore until he broke his leg late in the season.
The Raiders claimed bragging rights, 17-10, in the Battle for Union last year, but only went on to win one more game the rest of the season. Rivalry games in Northern Kentucky are always difficult to predict, but regardless of the outcome there will be plenty of storylines to follow in Friday night’s backyard battle between Cooper and Ryle.
BELLEVUE (7-5) at WALTON-VERONA (9-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 Friday at the Walton-Verona Sports Complex, Verona.
WHAT TO EXPECT: These two teams battled to a classic finish last year to open the season when Bellevue opted to go for the win and came up short on a two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra-point, giving Walton-Verona the 21-20 win on the road. The Bearcats will be looking to get off to a more convincing start this time around at home with key cogs returning from last year’s team in the form of senior quarterback Justin Kline, senior running back and linebacker Mason Compton and four returning lineman on both sides of the ball.
Bellevue had a strong first season with new head coach Johnny Poynter in 2013, but replicating that success will be a difficult task this year. The loss of 3,700-yard passer Tyler Ackerson as well as top running backs Dylan Huff and Zack Poinsett to graduation will be tough to replace in Poynter’s air-raid offense. Developing chemistry between senior quarterback Tate Granger and senior wide receiver Blake Stephenson early in the season will be key as the focal point of the Tigers’ offense shifts. Stephenson is looking for a big start to his senior year, as he closes in on Bellevue’s career yardage and receptions records.
COLLINS (13-2) at SIMON KENTON (12-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 tonight at Chlorine Menefee Stadium, Independence.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Collins proved to be a great season-opening test for Simon Kenton last year when the Pioneers needed a last second field goal by Tyler Smith to pull off the 23-21 win. Tonight’s match-up should be even more exciting after Collins stole last year’s 4A state championship by upsetting Highlands. The Titans lost a ton of firepower after graduating 18 seniors off of that state championship roster, including all of their skill players. Expect senior Bushy Wells, who played linebacker the last two years, to lead the Titans’ offense as a running back behind an offensive line that returns three starters and has three more players who saw significant time as backups last year.
Simon Kenton also graduated a lot of production off of last year’s team that captured the school’s first perfect regular season, most notably quarterback Brenan Kuntz. The Pioneers are looking to the future by starting sophomore Cameron Racke under center, but they are giving him all the tools needed to succeed with a huge and experienced offensive line, a top-notch running back in junior Dillon Powell and a defense that looked very impressive without its top linebacker (Barry Deaton) in a scrimmage last week against Louisville St. Xavier.
BOONE COUNTY (0-11) at COVINGTON CATHOLIC (10-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 1 Saturday at Wooten Field, Park Hills.
WHAT TO EXPECT: This game got out of hand last year as CovCath shut Boone out, 48-0. This year the two programs are in very different places, with Boone still looking to rebuild the program’s talent and depth in head coach Jeff Griffith’s second year and CovCath hoping to legitimately compete for a state title with lots of experience returning. However, this game will provide an interesting look at both teams’ quarterback position.
Boone struggled to put points on the board last year, but starting quarterback Jamar Lamb missed the whole year due to an injury. The Rebels are hopeful that adding another dynamic playmaker like Lamb to the mix in the backfield, particularly one that is more suited to playing quarterback, will greatly enhance the offensive production. On the other sideline, CovCath has one of the most interesting storylines entering the season, with two legitimately talented starting quarterbacks that have already proven themselves at the varsity level in senior Adam Wagner and junior Ben Dressman. Watching how the Colonels use those two playmakers simultaneously will be interesting.
HOLMES (5-6) at HOLY CROSS (1-10)
WHEN/WHERE: 7 Friday at Holmes Stadium, Covington.
WHAT TO EXPECT: The Crosstown Shootout has been a blowout the last two years as 4A Holmes has dominated its 2A rival by a combined score of 98-14 in the last two meetings. The Bulldogs have huge shoes to fill on both sides of the ball with the graduation of Jon Scruggs, but head coach Ben Nevels feels his team has enough playmakers to pick up the slack in production. The offense will rely heavier on the quarterback position this year, so junior Desean Brumfield will be looking to get off to a big start behind center. The athleticism of this Holmes team may be a bit overwhelming for an undermanned Holy Cross squad.
Holy Cross is coming off a one-win season, and they lost one of the best running backs in Northern Kentucky off of that team with the graduation of Jalen Beal. This year’s team will revolve around two returning starters on offense in junior quarterback Hamilton Scott and bruising sophomore running back Xavier Abernathy. This game will give the Indians a good idea of how much work they need to do to return to the form that saw them win a 2A state championship just three years ago.
CAMPBELL COUNTY (8-4) at EAST CENTRAL (4-7)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 tonight at Trojan Field, St. Leon.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Last year snapped a 22-year streak of winning seasons for East Central, but the Trojans are expected to bounce back in 2014. With a talented young core seeing early playing time last year due to injuries, East Central should be much improved. With two returning quarterbacks who saw varsity time last year in senior Brandon Koch and junior Luke Patton, a pair of returning senior receivers in Justin Stone and Brad Bonomini, and a returning senior running back in Andrew Keiholz; the Trojans should have the firepower on offense to really test the Campbell County defense in its first game.
Campbell County has improved its record every year under fourth-year head coach Stephen Lickert, but if the Camels are to do it again in 2014 they could certainly use a win against East Central. Lickert’s squad will be tested in its first two games unlike any time so far during his tenure, with Highlands looming in week one after facing the Trojans in week zero. It will also be interesting to see who takes the quarterback position and runs with it, after Eli Matthews and Carson Plessinger battled it out all preseason for the chance to be Avery Wood’s replacement.
NEWPORT (5-6) at MASON COUNTY (12-1)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 Friday at Mason County Field, Maysville.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Newport found its groove, especially on offense, in the second half of 2013 under first year head coach Matt Schmitz. Now, with a full-year in Schmitz’s system under their belt, the Wildcats are looking to improve on last year’s finish. With a big and experienced line on both sides of the ball that includes three-year starter Josh Mullins and Holmes transfer Breandon Johnson (a two-time First Team All Northern Kentucky Football Coaches Association selection), expect the Wildcats to focus their offense around their running game with the thunder and lightning backfield tandem of senior Dominick Joseph and junior Tyree Bolden.
Last year Mason County dealt Newport its fourth-straight loss to start the season, 17-12, when the two teams met up in late September. The Royals graduated star running back Rashon Nelson, who gouged the Wildcats defense for 140 yards and a touchdown, but senior Rico Hill is back after piling up 83 yards and a score as Nelson’s sidekick in that game.
SCOTT (7-4) at EAST JESSAMINE (1-9)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 tonight at West Jessamine, Nicholasville.
WHAT TO EXPECT: East Jessamine is coming off its worst season under head coach Mike Bowlin’s nine-year tenure, but the Jags are hoping the experience gained last year will bode well for the future. A strong junior class which features quarterback Cory Garrett, who started the final eight games of last season, and wide receiver/defensive back Jaxon Meads, is the foundation of the team. Senior Kendrick Reynolds is the emotional leader of the team and will make an impact as an athlete playing multiple spots on offense as well as linebacker on defense.
Scott is coming off of its best season ever as a program in 2013 but return only two starters on each side of the ball, so this first game should serve as a good opportunity for head coach Dan Woolley to get a look at a lot of his new players in a real game setting. The Eagles pulled off an exciting 21-20 win in this same event against West Jessamine last year. West Jessamine beat East Jessamine 35-33 later in the regular season. Expect running back/safety Roberto London to kick off his junior year with a big night rushing the ball for the Eagles’ run-heavy offense.
LUDLOW (4-7) at GALLATIN COUNTY (10-3)
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30 Friday at Gallatin County, Warsaw.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Ludlow will have to prove it can move the football and replace the production of graduated quarterback Mitchell Cody, but it won’t be easy against Gallatin County, which shut the Panthers out 41-0 last year. While the offense takes some time to figure it out, Ludlow will have to rely on its defense, which features six returning players that played varsity last year. Senior Logan Doane and junior Dalesean Holbert should lead the way from their linebacker positions.
Gallatin County lost a ton of starters off of last year’s team which captured the school’s first ever district title and set the school’s win record with 10. One player who didn’t graduate for the Wildcats is standout senior running back Chris Brown. Stopping Brown will be a big challenge for the Panthers’ defense after giving up 127 yards and a touchdown to him on just nine carries last year.