The Worthington Kilbourne High School football team opened the season with back-to-back games against its two top rivals, Dublin Scioto and Thomas Worthington.
But the next two games are just as big, as they will go a long way in determining the OCC-Capital Division championship and whether the Wolves will secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2008.
Kilbourne, which is 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Capital, takes a six-game winning streak into its home game against Olentangy on Friday, Oct. 18. The Braves endured their first loss Oct. 11, falling 38-21 to New Albany to drop to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Capital.
"This is without a doubt one of our biggest games in years," coach Vince Trombetti said. "It's been a long time since we've been 6-1. There's just so much on the line this week. This is obviously a huge game for both of us because whoever wins is most likely going to pretty much lock up a playoff spot. We know they're going to come into the game licking their wounds and knowing they have to win."
Kilbourne travels to New Albany on Oct. 25. The Eagles, who play winless Big Walnut on Friday, Oct. 18, are tied with the Wolves for first in the OCC-Capital at 4-0 and are 7-0 overall.
Kilbourne was projected to be sixth in the Division II, Region 5 computer ratings this week. New Albany and Olentangy were expected to be first and 12th, respectively, in Region 5.
"We still have to play New Albany, which has a lot of computer points," Trombetti said. "These next few games not only are critical for our playoff hopes, but also for the league championship."
Like Trombetti, first-year Olentangy coach Mark Solis is well aware of the importance of his team's remaining games.
"For us, winning this game would keep us in the race for a conference championship, but more importantly, it means a better chance to make the playoffs," he said. "It's come down to a three-game season for us."
Olentangy sophomore quarterback Deeb Haber completed 30 of 49 passes for 286 yards against New Albany but was intercepted twice. The Braves also lost two fumbles, including one that was returned 80 yards for a touchdown.
Olentangy scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes against New Albany's backups to make the score more respectable. The Braves rushed for 101 yards, less than half of their average (216 per game).
"(Kilbourne has) pretty good linebackers and good, athletic (defensive backs)," Solis said. "We're going to have to do a good job on first down, and we have to be able to run the football. That's priority No. 1."
Olentangy is averaging 36.4 points and the Wolves are allowing an average of 12.7. Kilbourne is averaging 36.6 points and the Braves are allowing 16.6
Olentangy's ability to switch offensive looks concerns Trombetti.
"Defensively, we need to really be on top of formations and understand what they do," he said. "They use a lot of formations. They go five-wide (receivers) on one play and can go double-tight (end) and wishbone on the next. We've got to be prepared for everything and make sure we're always in proper alignment.
"Offensively, we've been running the ball so well that I expect (Olentangy) to bring more guys into the box. We've got to be able to keep them honest and throw the ball some."
Kilbourne is coming off a 49-16 league win over Franklin Heights on Oct. 11.
"We did some good things in the passing game with (quarterback) Griffin Dahn, (slotback) Seth Hill and (wide receiver) Isaiah Young, and (running back) Justin Stoner ran the ball well," Trombetti said. "Our four linebackers, Josh Happ and Taylor Wilson inside and Daniel Stricker and Luke Hackathorne outside, are playing very, very well right now."
Against Franklin Heights, senior cornerback Chandler Bridges scored on an 89-yard interception return, Dahn threw three touchdown passes and junior running back Bobby Austria ran for two scores, as the Wolves rolled up 234 of their 403 total yards on the ground.
"They run the ball well," Solis said. "They run lots of option and that's a different look than we've seen this season. We must be disciplined and sound (defensively)."
Cardinals looking to get back to .500
Thomas will be looking to end a two-game losing streak when it travels to Central Crossing on Friday, Oct. 18, for an OCC-Central contest.
The Cardinals lost to Marysville 24-17 on Oct. 11 to fall to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the league. The Monarchs improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Central with the victory.
"We played pretty well for most of the game, moved the ball, but made some big miscues that cost us," coach Scott Gordon said. "We left 20 points out there. We dropped two passes in the end zone and we missed two field-goal attempts. One (field-goal attempt) hit the post and the other appeared to be over the upright and we didn't get the call. We had a 78-yard touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty."
The Cardinals trailed by seven points with just under two minutes remaining but were unable to recover an onside kick following a 43-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Danny Gordon to running back Tony Harvard.
Harvard rushed for 169 yards on 29 carries against Marysville and is on the cusp of 1,000 yards for the season, as he has 989 on 155 carries. Fullback Nick Petrucelli scored the Cardinals' other touchdown against the Monarchs on a 2-yard run and Ben Frazier made a 29-yard field goal.
Against the Monarchs, Gordon was 13-for-25 passing for 134 yards and wide receiver Brandon Miller had seven receptions for 75 yards.
Central Crossing lost to Dublin Coffman 47-23 on Oct. 11 to fall to 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the league. The Comets' win came against Brookhaven, 10-7 on Sept. 13.
"I don't know a lot about Central Crossing this season yet, but I've heard they use a lot of two-way players and we're going to try to exploit that by wearing them down," coach Gordon said. "I know they always play hard and have a good game plan.
"I'm sure they point at us and think this is a game they can get. We were in the same situation last year and barely won (28-27), so we need to stay focused and be ready to play."