The Olentangy Orange High School football team is looking to prove that its ready to be a player in the race for the OCC-Capital Division title when it battles New Albany on Friday at Crew Stadium.

The Olentangy Orange High School football team is looking to prove that its ready to be a player in the race for the OCC-Capital Division title when it battles New Albany on Friday at Crew Stadium.

New Albany has done everything but overtake Big Walnut since joining the OCC in 2006.

Orange was a first-year program last year but carried some expectation into this season with everyone eligible to come back. The Pioneers are 4-1 overall and 0-1 in the OCC-Capital after losing to three-time defending league champion Big Walnut 31-15 last Friday.

"I don't know how well we handled the success," Orange coach Brian Cross said. "I think we found out that you have to come out ready to play every football game. Maybe we thought we were better than we are. We're going to have to play at a much higher level (against New Albany)."

New Albany defeated Orange 30-21 last year at Crew Stadium.

Eagles coach Mark Mueller didn't think Orange looked as bad as the 16-point margin of defeat suggested. Orange, he said, summoned its own demise.

Orange quarterback Corey Joe had four first-half turnovers, including two interceptions and two fumbles.

"I think it was more that Orange made a lot of mistakes," said Mueller, whose team easily handled Watkins Memorial 37-10 last Friday to improve to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in the OCC-Capital. "They put the ball on the ground and, against a good team like Big Walnut is, you can't do that."

Last year, New Albany won the battle against Orange at the line of scrimmage. Ben Imlay ran 10 times for 135 yards. The Eagles ran for 263 yards against Watkins Memorial last week.

Imlay hasn't played in two games, but his replacement Jordan Gallegos has filled in nicely, rushing for four touchdowns and catching one while only playing in the first half the last two weeks. New Albany defeated Hilliard Bradley 47-14 a week before beating Watkins Memorial.

The Eagles also have an effective fullback in Alex Hake, who they use on inside runs. Hake rushed 10 times for 49 yards and a touchdown last Friday.

"They've had a couple of easy wins the last two weeks, but they've also played DeSales (a 13-6 New Albany loss on Sept. 11) and a good Westerville Central team (34-28 New Albany loss Sept. 4)," Cross said. "They've been tested. They're very solid on both offense and defense. They have good size and they're not going to be in the wrong place."

Cross said he is prepared to see a New Albany team that will try to "grind it out." Orange also could be without defensive coordinator Ted Papas, who faces a one-game suspension, per OHSAA rule, after being ejected from last Friday's game.

New Albany's offense is led by second-year starter Joe Morlan, who was 6-for-9 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown in one half last Friday. His top receiving targets are Chandler Tunney and Kevin Collins. Tight end Michael Van Straten also has been involved in the passing game.

Orange counters with a defense that has held three opponents to six points or less, but last Friday the Pioneers yielded 117 yards to Big Walnut fullback Buddy Carrel.

The defense is led by linebackers Alex Chekanoff and Jacob Harris, linemen Tyler Hughes and Jason Tomlinson and safety Ross Smith.

Offensively the Eagles are worried about Joe despite the mistakes last week. He has developed a reputation for being one of the area's top threats at quarterback. A running and passing threat, Joe conducts an offense that played mostly out of the spread until last Friday when it tried to use the I-formation more.

"He can hurt you both ways," Mueller said of Corey Joe. "He can throw the ball 60 to 65 yards easy."

Blake Joe will line up at running back in power formations, but when the Pioneers go to the spread, he'll line up at receiver. Corey Joe's other top receivers are Smith and Chase Swisher. Kyle Bogner leads the offense line.

The Eagles counter with a 3-5 base defense led by end Harrison Scott, an Indiana recruit, and middle linebacker Sylvester Hagan. Michael Bednarek leads the defensive backs.

"I'm expecting (the Orange game) to be big," Morlan said following last Friday's win. "It's just the atmosphere (at Crew Stadium) and running out there on the field with the big crowd. It should be fun, especially in my senior year."

Next game

NEW ALBANY vs.

OLENTANGY ORANGE

•When: 9 p.m. Friday

•Where: Crew Stadium

•Last meeting: 2008, New Albany 30-21

•New Albany to date (3-2, 2-0 in OCC-Capital): Defeated Westerville North 33-28; lost to Westerville Central 34-28; lost to DeSales 13-6; def. Hilliard Bradley 41-14; def. Watkins Memorial 37-10

•Orange (4-1, 0-1 in OCC-Capital) to date: Defeated Olentangy 27-6; def. Mifflin 35-6; def. Bellville Clear Fork 24-21; def. Mount Vernon 35-0; lost to Big Walnut 31-15

•Top Eagles: Bryant Bednarek (CB), Jordan Gallegos (RB), Alex Hake (FB), Sylvester Hagan (LB), Ben Imlay (RB), Joe Morlan (QB) Michael Van Straten (WR) and Harrison Scott (DE)

•Top Pioneers: Alex Chekanoff (LB), Blake Joe (RB/WR), Corey Joe (QB/DB), Chase Swisher (WR) and Ross Smith (DB)