Westerville North High School football coach Rodger Elander would be ecstatic if the momentum from the second half of last week's season opener carried over to the Warriors' home opener Friday, Sept. 5, against Newark.
North fell behind 21-0 by late in the second quarter Aug. 29 at Marion-Franklin, but Elander thought his team played much better the rest of the way in a 27-14 loss.
"We have to clean a lot of things up and not stop ourselves," said Elander, whose team committed 13 penalties. "We played much better in the second half offensively and defensively. The focus is on us cutting down on penalties. We'd make a nice play, and then back ourselves up."
Mason Gresh caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Jake Downs, and Jake Hinz had a 1-yard touchdown run.
"We want to have some balance offensively, but we are much more effective when we run the football," Elander said. "We'll have to keep doing the right things and being in the right place."
Newark, which was 1-9 last year, hasn't had a winning season since 2005 and is seeking its first season of four or more wins since 2007. The Wildcats opened with a 31-14 loss to Zanesville on Aug. 29, as Kaleb Jarrett threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Austyn Mays and Darius Shackleford caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jaedon Mitchell.
Like North, Newark was hampered by mistakes in the opener, committing five turnovers and 15 penalties. The Wildcats forced four Zanesville turnovers, including three first-half interceptions.
"The defense came out and played their butts off (but) we just didn't execute," first-year Newark coach Mike Kopachy told reporters. "Zanesville made (fewer) mistakes and we made too many. ... We need more consistent play."
Shackleford had more than 900 receiving yards last year working with four-year starting quarterback Grant Russell, who now plays for Ohio Dominican.
Newark runs a 4-2-5 defense, led by linebackers Mays and Chase Richardson. Elander anticipates North having a much harder time running the ball against the Wildcats this year than last, when the Warriors amassed 502 rushing yards in a 42-35 victory.
"They seem like they're playing much faster and more aggressive than last year," Elander said of Newark's defense. "They're a bit more solid tackling-wise. I hope we can run for that kind of yardage again, but I don't anticipate it. My concern is getting (Newark's defenders) out of the box and hoping we can open up some running lanes."