The last time the Watterson High School football team played Walnut Ridge, the result was lopsided.
The Eagles open the season Friday, Aug. 30, on the road against the Scots. It will be the teams' first meeting since 1994, when Todd Holcomb scored three touchdowns to lead Watterson to a 35-0 win.
The Eagles, who are 5-0 against Walnut Ridge, including a 24-6 win in the first round of the Division II playoffs in 1992, should bring a strong running attack to the matchup and they won't have to face 6-foot-5, 210-pound defensive lineman Robert Bowers.
A Michigan State-recruit, Bowers is expected to be sidelined until at least midseason after undergoing shoulder surgery during the offseason.
"(Watterson's) defense is physical, the typical type of Watterson team you'd expect," said Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox, who was an assistant at Beechcroft in 2002 when Watterson lost to the Cougars 12-7 in its regular-season finale but went on to win the Division III state title.
"We're kind of a multiple defensive type of team that's going to run the ball this year. We've got a young quarterback. Our top three wide receivers from last year are playing in college. I think we're going to try to establish the run."
Jaisean Johnson is expected to be the featured running back for Walnut Ridge, which went 7-3 last season, finishing one spot shy of qualifying for the Division II, Region 7 playoffs.
Johnson is expected to provide explosiveness after averaging about 10 yards per carry last season. Returning to last year's form would help take some pressure off the Scots' first-year starting quarterback, sophomore Malik Harrison.
Watterson, which went 7-4 last season, losing in the opening round of the Division III, Region 10 playoffs, also should have a strong ground game. Among the returnees are running backs Cody Calhoun (5-11, 201) and Walter Green (5-8, 160).
Last season, Green rushed for a team-best 753 yards and was honorable mention all-district last season and Calhoun rushed for 355 yards.
Watterson's offense will include a new quarterback after losing two-year starter Andy Elberson to graduation. Senior Patrick Pirrmann and junior Sam Maglicic competed for the starting job throughout the preseason.
Defensively, Watterson returns several key players, including Calhoun at strong safety, John Bogue (6-1, 277) on the line and Eli Kirk (6-1, 218) at linebacker.
"We're pretty excited, especially about our defense," Calhoun said. "We have four guys on defense who have played varsity for three years. Our offense is looking good. Me and (Green) are splitting a lot of the carries (at running back). We've got speed in both of us."