Licking Heights High School football coach Darren Waters thinks Granville is the team to beat in the LCL-Big School Division.
The Hornets will get their first look at the Blue Aces since 2001 when Granville visits Friday, Oct. 11.
"We need to be fully prepared to play Granville, mentally and physically," Waters said. "We'll need to execute and stay focused because they're the team to beat. Plus, that's the beginning of a brutal closing stretch for us. We follow them with Licking Valley, then the Battle of Broad Street (against Watkins Memorial) and then Johnstown."
The Hornets were 5-0 before beginning league play Oct. 4 against Lakewood. Granville was 4-1 before its league opener that night against Watkins Memorial.
However, through five contests, the Hornets hadn't been tested much. They played sloppily in a 21-13 win over Hamilton Township on Sept. 6 and again the following week during a 7-0 win against Groveport.
That was before quarterback Martell Davis returned from suspension. With assorted injuries, Licking Heights also had been moving players around.
Now that the pieces seem to be back in place, Waters has been working on the philosophy he adopted after his team went 10-0 during the regular season last year, won the MSL-Cardinal and lost to Marion-Franklin 46-14 in the first round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
"I'm going to keep our starters or key personnel in the game no matter what the score is until midway through the fourth quarter," he said. "Last year our starters didn't play much more than half a game in most cases. But that didn't have them physically and mentally conditioned to play four quarters when they needed to.
"We're not going to try to run up any score or anything like that, we just need to be prepared. We're working on tempo and focus and on different things. (In a 40-0 win against Northridge on Sept. 27) we worked on throwing the ball in the first quarter, we went no-huddle in the second quarter and the third quarter we went normal."
Waters realizes his team will need to play four quarters in the stronger LCL and especially against Granville, which won four in a row after opening with a 37-35 loss to Caledonia River Valley on Aug. 30. Before playing Watkins Memorial, the Blue Aces only had been tested once since then and came away with a 26-13 win against Johnstown on Sept. 20.
Senior quarterback Isaac Maurer guides Granville's spread offense. Through five games, he was 107-for-159 passing for 1,826 yards. Ajay Alderman had 36 receptions for 834 yards and 12 touchdowns, Brock Hill had 29 catches for 625 yards and seven scores and Hunter Orth had 23 catches for 199 yards.
"This will be the biggest contrast game all season for us," Waters said. "We want to hold onto the ball, chew ground and chew clock to give them as few opportunities as possible and keep our defense fresh. But it's not only on offense, but defense. We have different defensive approaches as well.
"We're on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both systems have proved successful. In the end, it's not about the Xs and Os, but the Jims and Joes."
Against Northridge, tailback Kendall Bradley ran for 211 yards and touchdowns of 10 and 89 yards, Doug Benniefield returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a score, fullback John Neary had a 5-yard scoring run and tailback Robbie Moore added 99 yards, including touchdown runs of 53 and 31 yards.
"Martell Davis had a key block downfield on Bradley's long touchdown run and I think a lot of the credit goes to the offensive line," Waters said. "Although we're blessed to have several standout tailbacks, there's something that needs to be said when no matter who you put back there, they're finding success."
Boys golf season ends in sectional
The boys golf team lowered its season-best 18-hole score by nine strokes during the Division I sectional Oct. 1 at Granville Golf Course, but the Hornets will not be represented in the district tournament Tuesday, Oct. 8, at Apple Valley.
Licking Heights finished 11th (383) in the 13-team sectional as Dublin Jerome (300), St. Charles (301) and Upper Arlington (304) advanced to district.
Senior John Kenney, who shot a 37 on the front nine of the course during an LCL dual against Granville on Aug. 22, struggled to a 96.
"It was an unfortunate way for him to finish a strong four-year career here," coach Tyler Hennen said. "He had trouble getting off some tees, which forced him to go with some punch-outs. But then he hit a lot of good irons, but he also had trouble putting.
"But I was proud of him because he's been a great leader for us. Troy Hickman had a career round and John congratulated him and was happy for him instead of sulking about his round. That's the type of leader he's been."
Hickman led the way with an 87 and had no three-putts, according to Hennen.
"He's a sophomore and he should take over our No. 1 spot next year," Hennen said. "We're losing two seniors with Kenney and Austin Pond."
Pond shot a 103, sophomore Justin Wand had a 97 and junior Kenneth Abarra had a 107.
The Hornets went 3-24 in LCL play to finish behind Johnstown (26-1), Granville (25-2), Heath (20-7), Newark Catholic (15-12), Watkins Memorial (15-12), Lakewood (12-15), Northridge (11-16) and Utica (6-21) and ahead of Licking Valley (2-25). Kenney (42.3 average) was second-team all-league.
Cross country teams set for LCL meet
The boys and girls cross country teams will compete in the LCL meet Saturday, Oct. 12, at Watkins Memorial, a prelude to the Division I district meet Oct. 19 at the same site.
Both teams concluded the regular season Oct. 5 in the Johnstown Invitational.
The girls team was coming off a 25th-place finish (690) in the 31-team Panther Invitational on Sept. 28 at Pickerington North, which Hilliard Davidson (78) won. Scoring were Paige Hartley (54th, 21 minutes, 23.3 seconds), Kirsten Reed (163rd, 24:07.9), Tessa Kenney (166th, 24:19.7), Ashton Malicoate (206th, 25:49.5) and Rachel Shemenski (214th, 26:36.1).
The boys team finished 25th (681) of 31 teams behind champion Davidson (43). Scoring were Tysson Olverson (85th, 18:41.8), Anthony Haist (115th, 19:16.4), Vince Masoni (166th, 20:21.2), Brandon Haist (182nd, 20:41.2) and Alex Wilcox (183rd, 20:41.4).
Girls soccer team earns another win
The girls soccer team earned its second victory and first LCL win by beating host Heath 1-0 on Sept. 26.
Madison Dixon scored early in the second half and Ellie Pastor made five saves.
Licking Heights was 2-11 overall and 1-4 in the league before playing Licking Valley on Oct. 3. The Hornets close the regular season Tuesday, Oct. 8, against visiting Bloom-Carroll.