Last Sunday, senior defensive back and tailback Keith Moore of the Grove City High School football team admitted the first three games of the season were tough for him and his teammates.
As the Dawgs prepare to play host Friday to Newark for the first time in eight seasons, those tough times are long forgotten.

Grove City is 3-3 overall, but more importantly 3-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division and tied with Pickerington Central for first. In last week's Division I state poll, Central was third behind Cincinnati Colerain and Cleveland Glenville.

Now, a game against Newark - 1-5 overall and 0-3 in the OCC after losing to Groveport 20-6 last Friday - looms, and coach Matt Jordan is not expecting an easy time as the Dawgs try to surpass the .500 mark.

"We won three games in a row and everyone will be talking this week that Newark is 1-5," Jordan said. "We're not good enough to have a 1-5 team come out and lay down for us. It's our homecoming and they will be ready to knock us off. We better be ready to go and not be looking ahead."

Grove City's final three games are against teams with non-losing records in Gahanna (3-3) on Oct. 10, Central (6-0) on Oct. 17 and Pickerington North (4-2) on Oct. 24.

"Newark is a scrappy bunch," Jordan said. "They've struggled, like us, to find an offensive identity and have all the issues with a new coach. But they got size and athletes. There might be some mismatches with their skill kids and ours."

Newark will be playing its third game in seven days. After losing to Groveport 20-6 last Friday, the Wildcats resumed their game last Sunday with Dayton Dunbar and lost 35-3. On Aug. 29, the game was suspended at halftime because of bad weather with Newark trailing 21-3.

Since then, Newark has made a change at quarterback with Chase Mathie replacing Rahlin Watson, who moved to wide receiver. Mathie finished 7-for-19 passing for 53 yards and no interceptions and Watson caught three passes for 24 yards last Friday.

Through six games, Newark's offense has averaged 9.2 points and its defense has allowed 31.3 points per game.

Jeff Buchanan was hired to lead Newark this season. Buchanan coached at Newark Catholic from 1992-2001 and Watkins Memorial from 2002-2007. He owns a career record of 138-104 and installed a 4-3 base defense to improve a defense that allowed 31 points per game last season.

Despite the three consecutive victories, the Grove City offense has continued to struggle. Last Friday, the Dawgs' lone score was a 9-yard pass in the third quarter from Mike Mayers to Grant Mosher.

"I know learning the offense takes time but it's time to start to pick things up," Jordan said.

"I'd like to see us score some more points. We had four missed field goals last week and we get down to the 20 or 30-yard line and sometimes self-destruct."

Mayers finished 4-for-16 for 68 yards last Friday, but was 2-for-2 for 42 yards during what proved to be the winning five-play, 51-yard drive.

Jordan Sturgell caught four passes for 82 yards and Moore had 54 yards rushing on 19 carries.

"It wasn't pretty," Jordan said. "The defense gave a great performance and again the offense did just enough to pull the win out."

Opponents have scored fewer points each game against Grove City, starting with a 27-0 loss to Dublin Scioto on Aug. 22 to the shutout victory last Friday.

"(Assistant Dan Needham) does a great job preparing the kids mentally," Jordan said. "We have some special kids on defense who buy into it and are having a lot of fun playing football."

Grove City forced three turnovers last Friday and Moore intercepted his fifth pass of the season. Lancaster's Nathan Carpenter was held to 39 yards rushing after his all-around performance in a 26-18 loss to Gahanna on Sept. 19 when he had 47 yards passing, 100 yards rushing and 90 yards receiving.

"We take the approach of being positive and having fun with the kids," Jordan said. "We get serious at times but we treat the kids with respect and we get that in return. We're thriving off that."

Jordan is heading the third program in his young career and he relied on experience to help the Dawgs out of their early-season funk.

"It's the old adage when you're not doing well, find something positive," he said. "We did some different things in practice and loosened the mood. Now that we're doing well, you have to find something negative to say to keep them level-headed and the offense has sputtered and struggled at times."

Although Jordan has not found an identity to his offense, he may have developed a reputation for his defensive-oriented team.

"When I took this job, I could tell you we were going to play four quarters of hard football and not stop," Jordan said.

"And our defensive going to be physical."