The Thomas Worthington and Jonathan Alder high school football teams start the season Friday, Aug. 30, with something to prove.
The host Cardinals will be looking to avenge a 28-6 loss to the Pioneers last year en route to a 2-8 record. Despite beating Thomas in the opener, Jonathan Alder finished 4-5 and snapped a streak of 11 consecutive postseason appearances.
"It's important that we start games well and that we win some early games," Thomas coach Scott Gordon said. "We're experienced, with 33 seniors. We have outstanding team speed and explosive playmakers with a strong kicking game.
"But we've got to learn how to win, put teams away and not allow a negative play to dictate the rest of the game."
The Cardinals led Jonathan Alder 6-0 at halftime last season before the Pioneers returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown.
"That changed the entire complexion of the game and we weren't mature enough to overcome it," Gordon said. "We fell apart from that point and that's not something we should do this year with this many seniors."
That discipline also will be needed defensively, as Jonathan Alder will spread the field and look for mismatches.
Jonathan Alder returns three starters on offense and eight on defense.
The returning starters on offense are tackle Chandler Ferko, center Tanner Gaerke and John Jewett, who moves from split end to quarterback.
"We've seen their two scrimmage films and they don't look like they've missed a beat offensively," Gordon said. "The quarterback distributes the ball well and they're often in an empty backfield, five-receiver set."
Thomas counters with a 4-3 defense that features six returning starters.
Although the Cardinals figure to have an improved passing game with senior Danny Gordon returning at quarterback, senior running back Tony Harvard could be the go-to player in the game. He ran for 1,172 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 247 yards and two scores last season.
"Tony Harvard is a strong, explosive runner with great change of direction," coach Gordon said.
"I'd say he's probably the best high school running back in all of central Ohio."
The Cardinals played well against Buckeye Valley in their first scrimmage, but were inconsistent against Dublin Jerome in their final scrimmage Aug. 23, according to coach Gordon.
"Both scrimmages were beneficial," he said. "We're still tinkering a little with personnel, but we hope to fine-tune what we do best and set a good game plan to be ready for Friday night."