The Hilliard Bradley High School football team realizes that it won’t be playing the same Thomas Worthington squad on Friday, Sept. 22, that it faced last season.
The Jaguars rolled to a 42-17 victory en route to their first playoff appearance last year.
The Cardinals entered the season having lost 29 of their previous 30 games, but they are 3-1 overall this year after losing their OCC-Cardinal Division opener to Worthington Kilbourne 26-25 in overtime on Sept. 15.
The Jaguars, who are 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the OCC-Cardinal, also must guard against a letdown after having played emotional games the past two weeks, beating sister schools Hilliard Davidson (28-10 on Sept. 8) and Hilliard Darby (21-7 on Sept. 15).
“We won our first five games last year and we lost focus and got beat (by Dublin Scioto 20-6) in a game where we weren’t ready to play,” Bradley coach Mike LoParo said. “We identified what went wrong last year and we’ve talked about that ever since and have used that as an example. We have to focus and prepare every week.
“Plus, Thomas is much, much improved. They’ve got some good athletes on the edge on offense and their quarterback is shifty and can run and throw the ball. They create a lot more problems in space than they ever have before.”
Against Kilbourne, Thomas allowed a touchdown on the first possession of overtime before quarterback Charlie Rhoades tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Ryan. The Cardinals then elected to go for the win rather than forcing a second overtime, and running back DiJahn Davis took a direct snap and was stopped short of the goal line on a run up the middle on the two-point conversion attempt.
“The kids came to me and said, ‘Let’s go for two and win this,’ and I agreed with them,” first-year Thomas coach Matt Zingery said. “We didn’t execute. It was one of those games where we left several points on the board by not taking advantage of our opportunities.”
Thomas is led on offense by receiver Khalil Jones, who scored on a 25-yard pass and a 10-yard run against Kilbourne. The Cardinals line him up in several positions over the course of a game in an effort to get the ball in his hands.
“(Jones) is a playmaker, so one thing we want to do is get pressure on the quarterback without losing containment,” LoParo said. “I think we have an advantage in size across the line on both sides of the ball and we want to use it.”
Linebackers Cannon Blauser and Jack Rondy have been defensive standouts for the Jaguars. Blauser had 20 tackles and three sacks against Darby.
“Their defense is very strong,” Zingery said. “You don’t limit power offenses like Davidson and Darby without guys who battle up front and read keys and get to the football.”
On the other side of the ball, Bradley has a ton of weapons. The Jaguars possess what is considered by many to be one of the top receiving corps in central Ohio.
Daevon Anderson is a 6-foot-3 speedster and Kory Taylor uses his 6-5, 215-pound frame to bully smaller defensive backs. Trey Warner (6-2, 205) and Zach Hummel (6-4, 230) are other key receivers for quarterback Josh Stewart.
Against Darby, Anderson had 109 yards on six receptions, Taylor had 10 catches for 96 yards, Warner had three receptions for 34 yards and Hummel had three catches for 23 yards, including touchdowns of 2 and 10 yards.
Stewart was 23-for-37 passing for 273 yards and added a 3-yard touchdown run.
“They have four outstanding receivers and an athletic quarterback,” Zingery said. “They have eight starters back on offense and seven back on defense and look to be the favorite to win the (OCC-Cardinal).
“We don’t have much size on either side of the ball and we don’t look the part of a football team when we get off the bus. We have to play fast, play smart and play with maximum energy and effort every game. That’s our approach.”