The Olentangy and Canal Winchester high school football teams aren't necessarily touting their season-opening game Friday, Aug. 30, as a possible playoff preview, but their first meeting pits two teams entering new eras.
The contest at Canal Winchester is the first for Mark Solis as coach of the Braves. He spent the past two seasons at Lorain and was hired to replace Ed Terwilliger, who retired after going 138-114 in 24 seasons with the Braves.
Last season, Olentangy went 10-2 and reached the second round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs.
Under Solis, the Braves will look to ride a fast-paced, no-huddle offense spearheaded by quarterback Noah Durst. Other key players include running back Hayden Hunter, wide receivers Anthony Allocco and Victor Elmurr and lineman Andy Simms (6-foot-3, 275 pounds), a Division I college recruit.
"We're as healthy as you can be going into the season," Solis said. "We had too many penalties (in a scrimmage against Eastmoor Academy on Aug. 23) and we didn't go as fast as we'd like on offense, but as far as rhythm, the guys did exactly what we wanted them to do. The mistakes we've made are correctable."
Canal Winchester, which is embarking on life in the OCC after being in the MSL since 1966, went 9-3 last year and reached the second round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
The Indians return three starters from their spread offense in Zach Bontempo (QB), Jalen Smith (WR) and Skyler Scott (WR).
Bontempo had seven catches for 78 yards last year as a wide receiver but has moved under center to replace 2013 graduate Isaac Pifer. Last season, Scott had 31 receptions for 666 yards and six touchdowns and Smith had 14 catches for 132 yards.
Among the key players on the Indians' defense is safety Khari Golden, who had 100 tackles, eight interceptions and two forced fumbles last year.
"We feel like our scrimmages prepared us for what we're going to see (Aug. 30)," Solis said. "We saw Marion-Franklin, Brookhaven and Eastmoor, three athletic teams. (Canal Winchester) has some solid athletes and they're going to be a formidable opponent. The right side of their offensive line could be pretty good and I really like their quarterback (Bontempo). He does a good job of manning their offense."
Olentangy and Canal Winchester both are in Division II, Region 5 this season, adding to the importance of their matchup.
"Both of their lines seem to be their strong suit," Indians coach Shawn Hinkle said. "They have a nice QB and their running backs are very tough. They have linebackers who are able to stop the run.
"The first week is always crucial to the season, and I think that's even more so for us this year. This season, it'll be almost like we're preparing for the playoffs every single week."