When the Heath High School football team opened the season a year ago, Middletown Madison was playing its first game under new coach Joe Snively.

When the Heath High School football team opened the season a year ago, Middletown Madison was playing its first game under new coach Joe Snively.

He overhauled the offense by implementing the spread, and the predictable result was plenty of growing pains as the Mohawks embarked on a 3-7 season and a 41-14 loss to the Division IV playoff-bound Bulldogs in Snively's debut.

Expect a tougher battle Friday at Madison.

"They're well-coached, and he's got a season under his belt there now," Heath coach Mark Collier said. "Changing offenses is never easy."

The Mohawks return several players at the skill positions, including quarterback Cody Wilmot (6-foot, 180 pounds) and running back Mason Conley (5-10, 190). But a young offensive line might still be trying to gather itself. The top returnees up front include sophomore David Schenck (5-10, 200) at one guard spot and junior Kyler Tusing (5-10, 210) at the other.

Conley rushed for 645 yards and six touchdowns last year, but Madison might come out throwing the ball more often than not to a veteran set of receivers led by Billy McGuire (6-0, 160), Chris Daniel (6-0, 170) and Dylan Dwyer (6-0, 180).

If so, much of the onus will fall on Heath's defensive backfield, which is anchored by senior Justyn Eckard (5-10, 135). He was among central Ohio's best with five regular-season interceptions last season. He earned first-team all-district and honorable-mention all-state honors for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1990 and finished 9-3. Moreover, Heath is dealing with some injuries across its defensive front.

"Any team that spreads it out concerns you, and they've got some tall receivers who can get to a lot of balls," Collier said. "They run a lot of bubble slants, and just when you think you've got things covered, they'll hand it off to the running back."

Defensively, Snively continues to tinker by opting for a 3-3-5 stack this season, which could leave some running lanes open for Heath quarterback Cole Benner (5-10, 152) and running back Nelson Scott (6-0, 165). Madison returns four starting defensive backs in Daniel, McGuire, Dwyer and Jeremy Hollen (5-9, 175).

"We ran it some last year, but really committed to it in the offseason," Snively told the Middletown Journal. "We're counting on the defense to be much improved."

The Mohawks gave up an average of 28.4 points overall a year ago, and that number grew to 38.5 against their four opponents who made the playoffs. They also lost to Lemon-Monroe (28-12), Carlisle (34-0) and Waynesville (51-12).

"It's kind of hard getting a read on a team that hasn't played a game yet," Collier said, "but they looked pretty good in their scrimmages."

NOTES - Watkins Memorial has another new opponent for opening night when Linden-McKinley visits. The Warriors defeated Westland 28-7 in coach Jeff Severinos debut in 2008 before losing 13-7 against Walnut Ridge a year ago. Newark plays host to Zanesville in the 105th meeting between the schools. The Blue Devils prevailed 51-6 a year ago.