Both the New Albany and Westerville Central high school football teams had worked since the end of last season on a plan that would make their offenses click despite having new pieces at key positions.

Both the New Albany and Westerville Central high school football teams had worked since the end of last season on a plan that would make their offenses click despite having new pieces at key positions.

Then last Friday, when it was put to the test, both sides realized they still had some work to do.

When the teams meet Friday at New Albany, both will be looking for their offense to score their first touchdowns of the year.

The Eagles are coming off their first opening loss since 2004. They fell to Westerville North 34-17 in a game they led 17-16 at halftime. The Warhawks' 31-2 loss to Big Walnut wasn't even close. The defending Division III state champions ran the opening kickoff back 85 yards for a touchdown and never looked back.

Both teams had a lot of the same questions going into the season, including who was going to start at quarterback. The Eagles settled on a two-player rotation between the passer, Joe Morlan (5-foot-10, 150), who was the backup last year, and the more run-oriented Jacob Sullivan (6-2, 163). The Warhawks decided to go with Brian Hunter, a move-in from Northland.

New Albany lost three fumbles and Morlan threw an interception as the offense totaled just 37 yards. The only thing keeping the Warhawks from being shutout was Corey Williams blocking a punt out of the end zone. The plan now for both sides appears to be cutting down the playbook.

"We have a lot of new guys (on offense)," New Albany coach Mark Mueller said. "We have some decent athletes that just need to grow up a little bit. We kind of cut down some of the things we do to try to make the game slow down a little bit for them. We don't have much in, but it's a little too fat right now."

The Eagles also have new players at tailback in Brandon Sharpe (6-0, 180) and Ben Imlay (5-9, 170) and at lead receiver in Ryan Priddy (5-10, 179). The offensive line also lost four of five starters.

The Warhawks have experience along their offensive line led by senior center Jordan Helmer (6-1, 218), and they have a couple of receivers who played last year in Kyle Stephenson (6-0, 170) and Tanner Ayle (6-1, 186).

But Hunter is new at quarterback and new tailback Brandon Walls (5-9, 170) played for North last year. Taqwuan Council (6-0, 195), the new slotback, was the lone bright spot last Friday, rushing for 92 yards, but in all Central coach Bob Fresch also has had to scale back the offense.

"We're not putting so much burden on (Hunter's) shoulders of looking over the defense, but maybe going with a play or going with a choice of one or two options rather than give him too many things to think about," he said. "Hunter is going to be a very good player for us."

One of the focuses in practice this week for Central was the special teams after it gave up a kickoff return for a score. The Eagles scored all of their points last Friday through special teams. Chance Moore scored on a 94-yard kickoff return and Collin Show blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone. He also made a 37-yard field goal.

Special teams weren't the problem for the Eagles, but a sputtering offense and a defense that Mueller said missed too many tackles was. The Eagles allowed North's Justin Brewton to rush for 143 yards and three touchdowns -- big numbers against a unit thought to be a team strength given all the returning players along the defensive line and at linebacker.

Weston McKeever (6-0, 180) was the Eagles' leading tackler last season, and part of the reason for that might have been the fact that linebacker John Korth (6-0, 200) missed most of last season. Korth was supposed to be the leader of the defensive front last year.

Show also plays on the defensive line as well as tight end. The defensive line rotates as many as nine players, including Andy Schubert and Nate Howard, who also anchor the offensive line.

Both teams play versions of an odd-stack defense. Central just switched to it this season after playing in the 4-3 a year ago. But after giving up 325 yards rushing to Big Walnut, it still has more to learn.

To be successful against New Albany, Fresch said the biggest thing his team had to do was eliminate the mental mistakes that hurt it against Big Walnut -- and then he rattled off a checklist of the things his team will have to be ready to respond to Friday.

"Watching New Albany on film, we're going to be concerned with the running back isolation," Fresch said. "And the sweep, the wingback counter, the waggle, the bootleg and with the passes, the drag and the post across the middle. The coaches have done a good job studying the film."

Last Friday

For coverage of all area football games last Friday, please visit:

Friday Night Live at www.thisweeknews.com

Next game

NEW ALBANY vs. WESTERVILLE CENTRAL

•When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

•Last meeting: 2006, New Albany 7-0

•Central to date: Lost to Big Walnut 31-2

•Top Warhawks: Tanner Ayle, Taqwuan Council, Jordan Helmer, Brian Hunter, Kyle Stephenson and Brandon Walls

Of note: The last time New Albany lost its opener was 2004. After that the Eagles won 11 in a row before losing to Martins Ferry in a Division IV regional final.