Given that the Groveport and Westerville South high school football teams are trying to fill some major holes in their roster as a result of graduation, their opening-week matchup should provide some answers.

Given that the Groveport and Westerville South high school football teams are trying to fill some major holes in their roster as a result of graduation, their opening-week matchup should provide some answers.

Groveport plays host to South on Saturday as part of the third-annual Spielman Gridiron Classic.

"It's an important game for us," said Groveport coach Tim Brown, whose team finished 6-4 last season, missing qualifying for the Division I playoffs by nine-tenths of a point. "If we're going to be able to play in (the OCC-Ohio Division), we need to play good competition."

South finished 9-3 last year, losing to Dublin Coffman 21-19 in the second round of the playoffs. In the waning seconds of their playoff loss, the Wildcats were held out of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

Groveport graduated a strong senior class, led by tailback Leveon Bell, who signed with Michigan State University. Helping offset those losses are the return of nine starters, led by 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Shane Denny. Denny is in his third year on varsity, having started three games as a freshman.

The hope for Brown is that Denny will help make the Cruisers a more balanced offense.

"We probably ran the ball 70/30 last year," Brown said. "We're more optimistic that if (other teams) give us the pass, we can take the pass. We're going to do a little bit of both."

Facing a blitzing, speed-based South defense, Brown thinks having an experienced quarterback will pay dividends.

"He's been under fire a little bit," Brown said of Denny. "We're hoping he can make the correct reads."

South will lean on one of the area's top running backs in senior Jayshon Jackson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and was named the district Offensive Player of the Year.

The Wildcats will be breaking in a new quarterback on Saturday in Marcus Ball, all the more reason for Groveport to contain Jackson.

"You better be technically sound," Brown said of defending Jackson. "You can't get out of position."

South coach Rocky Pentello doesn't consider the contest against Groveport to be a must-win. "We lost the first game last year and had a playoff team," he said.

Pentello is interested in seeing where his players are in terms of buying into the system.

"It's a game where you gauge the discipline of your team and whether they are implementing your adjustments," he said.

Both teams battled injuries during preseason camp, but they are expected to be about as healthy as they have been since the start of practice.

"This is going to be a great showcase," Brown said. "We want people to see we're a class team that's willing to work to the whistle."