Beechcroft was limited to two first downs and scored its only points on a fumble recovery when it played host to Watterson last year.

Beechcroft was limited to two first downs and scored its only points on a fumble recovery when it played host to Watterson last year.

The Cougars believe they are better equipped to deal with the remaining remnants of a defense that led the Eagles to a 30-6 win a year ago. The teams meet in the rematch Friday, Sept. 2, at Watterson.

Junior Maurice Hale has taken over at quarterback after entering in relief during the Cougars' matchup with Watterson last season.

Beechcroft defeated Independence 33-0 in its opener Aug. 26 as Hale rushed for two touchdowns and James Duncan had 14 carries for 160 yards and one score. Watterson lost its opener 38-3 at Pickerington North.

"It's going to be a new running game this year," Cougars senior running back Shaquille Minnifield said. "This will be the year our offense will look like something."

Coming off a 13-1 season in which it gave up an average of 7.7 points and won the Division III state title, Watterson took a 3-0 lead against Pickerington North but had only four first-half first downs and trailed 24-3 at halftime.

Senior inside linebackers Craig Fada and Mario Dean and senior free safety Erik Oman are the top returnees on defense for the Eagles, who will look to contain Beechcroft's spread offense.

Watterson has a new quarterback in junior Andy Elberson but a group of experienced returnees around him in senior Isaiah Murray and Dean at running back and Oman at wide receiver. Senior Jack Gammon is another who has taken on a key role at wide receiver after missing the second half of last season with an injury.

Beechcroft, which for many years has been among the most aggressive and successful defenses among City League teams, spent the offseason focusing on being physical.

"We're all good friends off the field," Oman said of the key members of Watterson's offense. "(Elberson's) a real nice guy and he's gotten a lot better this year. (Gammon) has been doing very well after not getting to play a lot last year."