Irish (2-2, 0-1) Warriors (2-2, 0-1)
Following back-to-back road losses, the Westerville North High School football team hopes its first home game since opening week will help it get back on the winning track.
The Warriors play host to Dublin Scioto on Friday, Sept. 27, in an OCC-Cardinal Division contest. Both teams are 2-2 overall and have lost their last two games, including their league openers last week.
"It's going to be nice to have a home game again," said Warriors coach Roger Elander, whose team lost to defending league champion Hilliard Darby 37-6 on Sept. 20. "It feels like it's been a very long time since we played at home and the kids will enjoy feeding off the energy of our fans in our stadium."
Scioto has been plagued by turnovers in its past two games, totaling eight in losses to Marysville (30-28 on Sept. 13) and Westerville Central (41-38 on Sept. 20).
The Irish had three turnovers against Central, helping the Warhawks erase a 13-point, third-quarter deficit. Scioto turned the ball over five times against Marysville, which overcame a 14-point, second-quarter deficit.
"I think with our kids, they have to take away from these games that we can play with anybody," Irish coach Karl Johnson said. "But we've got to eliminate some of the mistakes that have been costing us late in the game and find a way to get it done."
North ended its 45-game losing streak with a 48-21 victory over visiting Franklin Heights on Aug. 30 and defeated Newark 42-35 on the road Sept. 6, but points have been much harder to come by since its 2-0 start. The Warriors combined for 20 points in their losses to Darby and Reynoldsburg (34-14 on Sept. 13).
North's only score against Darby came on a 18-yard run by quarterback Jake Downs in the fourth quarter with the Warriors trailing 37-0.
The Panthers held North to 161 total yards, with all of the yardage coming on the ground. The Warriors, who had 181 yards rushing against Reynoldsburg, did not attempt a pass against the Panthers because of the wet conditions.
Among the Warriors' running backs are John Taylor, who has rushed for 240 yards on 34 carries through four games, and 6-foot-2, 231-pound Andy Struttmann, who has 231 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries. Another running back, Jake Hinz, had a team-high 58 yards rushing on nine carries against Darby.
Struttmann, Taylor and Hinz also are key members of North's defense as linebackers.
"We need 48 minutes of great effort and execution," Elander said. "We just didn't execute very well (at Darby). If we play hard and execute our game plan, we'll have a chance. Our entire division of the OCC is tough and Dublin Scioto is another tough opponent."
Scioto, which is 5-0 all-time against North, is averaging 29.5 points and 331.5 total yards.
Key players on offense for the Irish include running back Darius McDonald, a Division I recruit who has 286 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 56 carries and 21 catches for 170 yards and two scores, and quarterback Nathan Densel, a first-year starter who has completed 71 of 120 passes for 721 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. Four of his interceptions came against Marysville.
McDonald was injured in the second half against Central and his status for this week was not known at press time.
"On both of the interceptions (against Central), he saw a chance to make a big play," Johnson said of Densel. "The first one, he didn't plant his feet right and the ball didn't come out well. The second one, what he saw and what was there might not have been the same thing. But the kid is a warrior and is out there giving it his all."