FREMONT — There may be no team in the area that has had worse luck this season than St. Joseph Central Catholic.
But if there is, it’s probably Lakota.
The Sandusky River League foes meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Don Paul Stadium hoping for a respite from a brutal few of weeks as both teams have battled dooming injuries to key personnel and seen winnable games turn to losses as a result.
Despite the challenges, neither team has started waving the white flag of surrender.
“There’s been no negativity with each other, no pointing fingers by any means,” SJCC coach TJ Buckley said. “I’ve had to deal with none of those issues that some coaches do when you’re not winning. The kids come out, they work hard, do what they need to do and continue to just keep working. I can’t ask any more from them.”
Riding a winless season, the Crimson Streaks went into last week’s game at Crestline facing a team also looking for its first win. SJCC, however, already limited by injuries, was decimated by a flu bug that swept through 14 of 28 players. Six players didn’t even make the trip, three got sick before the kickoff and two did so during the game. Only 17 suited up for the game, leaving just six reserves on the sideline.
The Crimson Streaks (0-8 overall) led at halftime but lost the game, 36-22.
“I had one guy, we sprinted down on kickoff and, the next thing I know, he’s sprinting the other way to the bathroom,” Buckley said.
“I still had a kid out Monday and a kid out (Wednesday) still sick. Even myself and one of the other coaches had it. It was awful.”
While the bug has subsided, so too have the injuries. Back from injuries are running back Ross Snyder, receiver Zach Militello and more are on the way. Tight end/defensive end Gavin Kubat, who’s been out since before the season with a knee injury and is expected to return as is receiver/defensive back Isaiah Jones, who has been out since Week 2 with a back injury.
Buckley said he expects his team to be healthier Saturday than at any other point this season.
“We feel like we’ll have a lot better chance than we’ve had with guys out,” Snyder said. “It opens up the playbook a little more, we have more options to go to and that helps a lot.”
As for Lakota (3-5), the Raiders began the season 3-1 and were in prime position for a playoff berth. But a rash of injuries over the last month have stalled the Raiders’ momentum.
Lakota saw its starting quarterback, Tyler Gabel, and his backup injured in a Week 5 loss to Toledo Woodward. While Gabel has continued to play, he was unable to throw for a couple of games because of an arm injury.
Knowing Gabel was limited to handing off only, defenses keyed on the running game, at which point top running back Gabe Boose was lost for the season with a concussion.
“The week going into Western Reserve without a quarterback, that was a tough one,” Lakota coach Shance Jacoby said. “Everybody knew it was pretty slim that we were going to be able to do the things we wanted to do.”
Then other key players went down. Andrew Ferree has been battling a shoulder injury. Andrew Hovis and Levi Myers were both injured two weeks ago against St. Mary Central Catholic and have been limited since.
Lineman Josh Short has also been lost for the season.
It’s all added up to the point where, when the season concludes next week, the Raiders may well look at themselves and wonder, “What if?”
“We talk about that every once in a while in the coaches’ office, saying ‘Man, we were sitting pretty good there for a while, where did it all go?’” Jacoby said. “But we’ll worry about reflecting on all that when it’s done. We have to get ready for St. Joe.”
IF YOU GO
Who: Lakota (3-5 overall, 0-1 Sandusky River League) at St. Joseph Central Catholic (0-8, 0-1)
What: Battle of SRL foes looking leave injuries behind and get to get back into the win column
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Don Paul Stadium
See live tweets from the game by following Rich McGowan on @RMcGowan1 and at http://www.thenews-messenger.com/SPORTS