After being on the road for four of the last five games, the Reynoldsburg High School football team is pleased be playing host to OCC-Ohio Division-rival Lancaster on Friday.

"It's going to be nice to get back home and put on a game in front of the home crowd," said coach Steve Evans, whose team lost at Pickerington North 27-13 last Friday to drop to 1-5 overall and 1-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division.

When Evans took over last spring, the Raiders had an open date Aug. 29, the season's second game. Unable to get a home game that late in the scheduling process, Reynoldsburg settled for playing at Lebanon, a game that the Raiders lost 7-3, and by season's end they will have played two more road than home games.

Lancaster is struggling on offense. The Golden Gales dropped to 2-4 and 0-3 with last Friday's 7-0 loss to Grove City, the second time in three games that an opponent held their offense scoreless.

Sophomore quarterback Nolan Flowers (6-foot-2, 160 pounds) returned last Friday after beginning the season as the starter. In his place, Lancaster has used both Ryan Cheek, a 6-foot, 235-pound North Carolina State recruit at linebacker, and Nathan Carpenter.

The Golden Gales have gone to a shotgun-spread offense, and with Flowers back, they'll use Carpenter as both a running back and as a receiver. There was a plan when the season started to have Cheek split time at quarterback, but after rushing for 228 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries as the quarterback in a 37-6 win over Independence on Sept. 5, Cheek has not played the position since.
"We haven't seen him at quarterback," Evans said. "He's been moved over and playing strictly defense. Since (the Independence game) he hasn't played quarterback so that is kind of a mystery for us."
But it's no mystery what he means to the defense. The second-team all-state selection from a year ago also had 11 tackles against Independence. His presence in the middle of Lancaster's defense won't go unnoticed. With the triple option, the Raiders won't deviate too much from their scheme, but they will make sure to have a blocker assigned to Cheek no matter where he lines up. The Raiders also plan to keep Cheek guessing.
"We don't' necessarily have to change anything," Evans said. "You have to account for him. When we're double-teaming a down lineman, we have to make sure we someone getting to the second level to block him and we'll try to do some things, try to give him some misdirection. We'll try to keep him off balance."

Some of that misdirection could include wingback Rodney Smith, a senior who has had to make one of the biggest adjustments to this year's scheme. In Evans' offense, fullbacks Huss Trowery and Josh Wilson are the main carriers out of the backfield. Last year's system often employed more traditional two-back sets in which a running back like Smith would work up field before going outside.

In the triple option, the tailbacks have moved to the edge in a wingback position and this year they have been used less frequently than the fullback dive or the quarterback keeper. Smith has had to make the adjustment from carrying the ball 15 times per game to carrying it around six times - and it's almost always on a play where he has to run wide.

"I've adjusted to it, but at the beginning it was hard for me," Smith said. "It was a whole different system than what I was used to. The biggest adjustment for me was getting the ball and getting the to the perimeter. Most of my plays are from the hash and out."

Smith is not alone. Everyone is in the first year of the offense and it continues to be a work in progress as players get acclimated. There were some signs during last Friday's game that things continue to get better. The Raiders were able to convert on three scoring opportunities and have now scored 10 points or more three times this season, something they only did three times last year.

A 28-0 loss to Dublin Jerome on Aug. 22 remains the only time the Raiders have been shut out, which is something that happened four times last year. But the thing that excited Evans the most last Friday was that the offense didn't have any turnovers, which has helped Reynoldsburg play to a strong defense and stay in games. The only thing is there are a lot of players around, like Smith, that remember what it was like to lose those games.

"It's continued growth," Evans said of the offense. "Last Friday was the first time I felt like players were looking at the scoreboard, like, here we go again. I told them we've worked to hard and we've improved too much to let this happen. There comes a time that you have to deal with adversity. Were 10 points down. You just have to keep believing yourself."

Reynoldsburg played from behind the entire game last Friday. Darien Bryant caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from J.C. Gibson to help make it 14-10 at halftime, but North answered with a touchdown in the third quarter to go back up by two scores.