Westerville South High School football coach Rocky Pentello said his defense will need to account for all of Hilliard Darby's offensive weapons when his team plays host to the Panthers in an OCC-Cardinal Division game Friday, Oct. 5.
The biggest concern for the Wildcats' defense, however, is 6-foot, 188-pound senior slotback/wide receiver Caleb Day, a University of Illinois recruit who has rushed for 292 yards and six touchdowns on 27 carries and has 21 receptions for 350 yards and five touchdowns.
Day rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on six carries and had six catches for 90 yards and a score to help the Panthers defeat visiting Worthington Kilbourne 34-27 on Sept. 28, as Darby improved to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the OCC-Cardinal.
"They run a veer option (offense), so we just have to make sure all of our guys cover their assignments," said Pentello, whose team endured its first loss of the season, a 42-35 setback against host Dublin Scioto on Sept. 28 to drop to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the OCC-Cardinal. "We need to take away their quarterback (Chase Longwell) and the dive, and it's really important to know where No. 7 (Day) is all the time because he's fast and he has the ability to make big plays."
Darby coach John Santagata said Longwell will need to read South's 4-3 defense and distribute the ball to his best option.
Longwell has rushed for 429 yards and six touchdowns on 70 carries and has completed 34 of 54 passes for 628 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Fullback Hayden VanKirk has rushed for 304 yards and five touchdowns on 57 carries and fullback Cameron Kohl has 156 yards and four scores on 21 carries.
Santagata said it is equally important that Darby's blockers pick up South's blitzes. The Wildcats' defense is led by backs Marcus Ball (three interceptions), Timmy Bates (four interceptions) and Myles Collier and linebackers Darien Miller and Kamaree Walden.
"They blitz from all different locations, so we've got to be ready to handle their defensive pressure," Santagata said. "We want to be balanced. Our run is designed to set up our play-action pass, but we have the ability to throw more when we need to."
South is averaging 39.3 points and 485.8 yards per game, including 303.5 passing yards, but Pentello said the Wildcats must do a better job protecting the ball, as they have 16 turnovers this season.
Two South turnovers set up touchdowns for Scioto in the third quarter.
"We're putting up points, but we're also making some mistakes that are hurting us and we need to eliminate those mistakes," Pentello said. "We're hoping to get (senior running back) Noah Prentiss back on the field this week, and that would give us a boost."
Prentiss, who has rushed for 654 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries, sat out the game against Scioto because of a back injury. Miller started in his place, rushing for 105 yards on 22 carries, and has rushed for 405 yards and six touchdowns on 47 carries on the season.
South quarterback Nick Renzetti is 116-for-196 passing for 1,821 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
His favorite targets are wide receivers Jalen Bell (38 catches, 670 yards, 10 touchdowns), Ball (28 catches, 390 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Torrodd Carter (15 catches, 259 yards, 2 touchdowns) and tight end Darryl Long (20 catches, 273 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Santagata said his 4-3 defense, which is led by backs Day and Longwell and linebackers Kohl and Trevor Parker, needs to disguise its coverage and bring pressure from different angles to keep South's offense off balance.
"They spread you out, count how many guys you have in the box and then run or pass based on that, so we can't sit in the same defense all day," Santagata said.
"They have a good quarterback and athletic kids who are good at making plays in space, so we have to be sound defensively and make open-field tackles.
"And, whether it's from a three-man or four-man front, we have to find ways to put pressure on their quarterback because they have too many athletes to try to cover all over the field for too long."