|Eastwood faces showdown (09-26-13)|
|Written by THOMAS SCHMELTZ Sentinel Sports Writer|
|Thursday, 26 September 2013 09:31|
LUCKEY - Arguably the biggest Northern Buckeye Conference game of the year comes during Week 5 for Eastwood and Genoa.
The rivalry that has evolved over the past six seasons because of its conference title implications will be underway this week.
The winner of this game has gone on to win the outright league championship in six straight seasons.
Eastwood has gone 1-5 against the Comets in the last six regular-season meetings, having last won in 2011, 25-23. The Eagles were 10-0 in the regular season in 2011.
Overall in the last seven meetings, Eastwood is 2-5 against Genoa, which included a 14-7 win in the second round of the state playoffs in 2007.
"Until someone else steps and up and can beat Genoa, this would be 'The Game' in the league," said Eastwood head coach Jerry Rutherford. "We treat it like, for right now, it's one night for the league championship. We're not going to say the winner is going to win the league, but the winner certainly has a good shot. And that's how we treat it."
Eastwood had won at least a share of the league title from 2002-06, but has only one championship since then (2011), with Genoa claiming the other five.
But after a 3-1 start to the season, the Eagles feel like they are in prime position to get back on top of the league. And that road continues against the Comets on Friday night. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Genoa.
"You talk about guys can play four years of high school football and never really play in a big game. ... Where our guys get to do it every year," Rutherford said. "Hopefully, the experience of two years ago and the experience of last year can carry over and help us be ready to go Friday night."
Genoa was a 21-10 winner over the Eagles in 2012 with the difference in the game being a couple of big plays, according to Rutherford. This season, Eastwood returns 15 players with starting experience, seven of which are on defense.
The Eagles were a disappointing 5-5 last year, but knowing this game came "down to the wire last year" gives them confidence.
"When I look back and compare last year to this year, we came into this year with a backfield," Rutherford said.
Eastwood has gone with the combination of Devin Snowden (fullback), Brent Schlumbohm (halfback) and Brennan Seifert (halfback) in the backfield this year, giving the Eagles stability and steady production.
The three have combined for 757 of Eastwood's 1,062 rushing yards this season and have produced 10 of its 14 rushing touchdowns.
"We've stuck with that group. Where a year ago, we could never settle in on a backfield," Rutherford added. "We were moving guys around constantly."
According to Rutherford, Eastwood has seen its biggest improvement after the conclusion of its 17-13 loss to Clyde.
"What it looks like in practice is our confidence level is pretty high right now," he said. "When we run our plays, knowing that Genoa is going to throw multiple looks at us defensively, it just seems that our guys understand a little bit more than they did three weeks ago when we were playing in the Clyde game."
The play of the defensive line has also been much improved. The rotation of Michael Glaze, Caleb Tussing, Jacob Rahe, Lucas Friess and Tyler McCrory have made constant improvement through the first four weeks of the season. And the defense as a whole has improved over last year.
In Eastwood's first three games in 2012, it had given up 96 points, compared to 45 this year, against the same opponents.
This week, the Eagle defense will need to be at its best as Genoa enters scoring 63 points per game. Linebacker Grant Geiser leads the Eastwood defense with 58 tackles, eight of which are for a loss.
The Comets are ranked sixth in Division IV.
"They've kept us in the start of all four games, and that's been huge," Rutherford said of the defensive unit, which as forced 12 turnovers in the first four games.
And for the Eagles to continue their hopes for a conference championship, everyone will need to come up huge against the Comets.
"You've got seven Friday nights and that's all you get," Rutherford said. "If you want to win the league championship, knowing the success that Genoa has had, you're going to have to win all seven Friday nights."
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