The Olentangy Orange High School football team travels to Big Walnut on Friday for a game with early implications on the race for the OCC-Capital Division championship.

The Olentangy Orange High School football team travels to Big Walnut on Friday for a game with early implications on the race for the OCC-Capital Division championship.

Big Walnut is the three-time defending OCC-Capital champion and is considered by many, including Pioneers coach Brian Cross, to be the favorite to win the league. The Golden Eagles opened league play with a 27-7 win over Watkins Memorial last Friday to improve to 3-1 overall.

Orange, which improved to 4-0 overall with a 35-0 win over Mount Vernon in its league opener last Friday, also can take a big step toward qualifying for the Division II playoffs with a win over Big Walnut. Both teams are in Region 7.

The Pioneers lost to the Golden Eagles 28-7 last season.

"Big Walnut's been one of the best teams in the area for quite a long time and we're going into their house, so that will add to it," said Cross, whose team was first in the Division II area coaches poll last week. "It's a game we've been looking forward to playing. Last year they beat us pretty good, so we just want to come out and play good, physical football against them and execute, and we'll see what happens."

Orange and Big Walnut have had one common opponent so far: Olentangy. The Pioneers defeated the Braves 27-6 on Aug. 29, but Big Walnut lost to the Braves 17-0 on Sept. 11, marking the first time the Golden Eagles have been shut out since 2006.

"A lot of us know (Big Walnut's players) and they know us," Orange wide receiver Chase Swisher said. "There was a little bit of (trash) talking going on this summer. They've got a lot of speed and they're a physical team, but I know we'll be prepared for the game this week. The coaches will have us ready."

Big Walnut racked up 441 yards on offense against Watkins Memorial. Quarterback Johnny Cannell was 11 of 21 for 197 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Bret Myers had six receptions for 139 yards and had three touchdowns (36, 23, 42).

The Golden Eagles also have a strong running game, led by running back Cody Leitner and fullback Buddy Carrel. Carrel rushed for a season-high 108 yards on 11 carries in a 33-10 win over Chillicothe on Sept. 4.

Big Walnut's offensive line is anchored by 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle Skyler Schofner. According to Rivals.com, he has received 15 Division I scholarship offers, including six from Big Ten Conference schools -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Orange's defense, led by linebackers Alex Chekanoff and Jacob Harris, linemen Tyler Hughes and Jason Tomlinson and safety Ross Smith, turned in a stellar performance against Mount Vernon. The Pioneers are allowing an average of just 8.3 points. They held the Yellow Jackets to 75 total yards and had six sacks, including two by Tomlinson.

The shutout was the first in program history.

"To hold somebody under 80 yards and get a shutout, that's pretty good," Swisher said. "They've been pretty good all year, though. That's what I expect out of them every game."

Big Walnut's defense is allowing an average of 12 points. It's led by linebackers Seth Dunn and Jacob Walaszek, linemen Matt Brown and Cole Hobart and safety Grant Beam and cornerback Jason Whitner.

The Golden Eagles know they must contain quarterback Corey Joe, who can be just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm. Against Mount Vernon, he completed 8-for-9 passing for 103 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 28 yards and a touchdown.

"He's an incredible athlete," Big Walnut coach Joe Weaver said of Joe. "But the thing that makes them dangerous is that he's not the only one. He's very good at what he does, but he's got some threats on the outside and some running backs that do a nice job."

In the matchup last year, Big Walnut limited Joe to 61 yards rushing on 19 carries and 3-for-10 passing for 56 yards and an interception -- one of three turnovers by the Pioneers in the game.

Next game

ORANGE at BIG WALNUT

•When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

•Last meeting: 2008, Big Walnut 28-7

•Olentangy Orange (4-0, 1-0 in OCC-Capital) to date: Defeated Olentangy 27-6; def. Mifflin 35-6; def. Bellville Clear Fork 24-21; def. Mount Vernon 35-0

•Big Walnut (3-1, 1-0 in OCC-Capital) to date: Def. Westerville Central 21-14; def. Chillicothe 33-10; lost to Olentangy 17-0; def. Watkins Memorial 27-7

•Top Pioneers: Kyle Bogner (OL), Alex Chekanoff (LB), Jacob Harris (LB), Blake Joe (RB/WR), Corey Joe (QB), Ross Smith (WR/DB), Chase Swisher (WR) and Jake Vacheresse (RB)

•Top Golden Eagles: Johnny Cannell (QB), Buddy Carrel (RB), Seth Dunn (LB), Cody Leitner (RB), Bret Myers (WR), Skyler Schofner (OL), Jacob Walaszek (LB) and Jason Whitner (DB)