Over the past seven seasons, the Beechcroft High School football team has earned four postseason berths, one playoff victory and a City League-North Division championship.

Over the past seven seasons, the Beechcroft High School football team has earned four postseason berths, one playoff victory and a City League-North Division championship.

One thing the Cougars haven't done during that time, however, is beat Brookhaven.

More than at any time since their last victory over the Bearcats in 2001, there are facts which suggest that this could be Beechcroft's best opportunity to overtake its biggest rival. Last season the Bearcats won the division at 7-0 as the Bearcats were 6-1.

Among those factors are the following:

•The Cougars set a program record last year when they shut out seven opponents, and most of the defensive starters return.
•The offense has few question marks after averaging more than 45 points last season.

•Many of the 25 seniors have been key players the last two years, including six that have played significant minutes since they were freshmen.

It has set up a now-is-the-time atmosphere heading into the opener Friday against visiting Whitehall.

"I don't really think we worry about being the favorites because the community's perception, and the reality is, that Brookhaven's still on top," first-year coach Bruce Ward said. "We haven't beaten them in how long?"

Ward, who enters his ninth season on Beechcroft's coaching staff and had been the defensive coordinator since 2006, took over in the offseason after Tom Dunlap stepped down. Dunlap, who took a job working at Ohio State in the spring after completing his 35th year as a teacher in 2008-09, coached the Cougars to a 174-70 mark in 23 seasons.

Beechcroft made the playoffs 12 times during his tenure, including last year when it lost 34-28 in two overtimes to Marion-Franklin in a Division II first-round game to finish 9-2.

Seniors Wallace Hale (5-foot-11, 212 pounds), B.J. Watkins (6-0, 215) and Larez Harper (5-10, 185) all enter their fourth seasons as starters.

Hale made the ThisWeek Super 25 and first-team all-district after rushing for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards at running back. He also finished as one of the team's leading tacklers at linebacker.

Watkins rushed for more than 900 yards and again will see significant action at running back, and he also has been a starter at linebacker since he was a freshman. Harper made first-team all-district at strong safety last year.

Also expected to join Hale and Watkins at linebacker in a defensive front which should have four linemen is senior Breland Holman (6-1, 165) and Harper, who could see time at both linebacker and safety.

Senior Jalen Davis (5-9, 160) and sophomore Shaquille Minnifield (5-10, 170) are expected to be at cornerback, with senior Darius McCants (5-11, 190) at free safety.

The expected starters on the defensive line include seniors Rasean Moore (6-5, 225), Chauncey Hilson (5-9, 230) and Rahim Jones (6-1, 195) and junior Austin Davenport (6-1, 173).

Chaz Nelson, who was the second-team all-district tight end and also started at defensive end, was the only significant graduation loss from the defense.

"Defense is probably our strong point right now," Ward said. "The guys we have all pursue the ball well."

The team's only big question on offense is at quarterback, where 2009 graduates Antonio Stevenson and Joe Simpson split time a year ago.

Junior Sheldon Akin was 96-for-191 passing for 20 touchdowns and 1,520 yards for Africentric a year ago and transferred to Beechcroft in the offseason. As of the second week of August however, Ward still hadn't heard whether Akin would be eligible to play this season.

If Akin is unable to play, then freshman Maurice Hale (6-1, 170) - Wallace's brother - likely will be the starter. Senior Billy Croom, a second-team all-district punter last year when he averaged 39 yards, also has been taking snaps at quarterback.

Joining Wallace Hale and Watkins at running back will be junior Dairon Glover (5-10, 170).

When Croom is not at quarterback, he will be at wide receiver along with senior Ron Walton and juniors Kenneth Bosley (5-9, 160) and Davenport. Moore should take over at tight end.

The likely starters on the offensive line include seniors Darrian Smith (C, 5-10, 260), Ron Burrell (T, 6-0, 205), Justin Havener (T, 6-3, 215), Jones (G) and Hilson (G).

Senior Godfred Tawiah again will be the kicker.

Although Beechcroft's opening opponent, Whitehall, went 0-10 a year ago, Division I perennial playoff-contender Upper Arlington has replaced Teays Valley in week two (Sept. 4) followed by St. Charles (Sept. 11).

Brookhaven, which is back in Division II, Region 7 along with the Cougars after spending the last four seasons in Division I, Region 3, travels to Beechcroft on Oct. 16.

"We hear it a lot," Harper said of his team's perception as conference title contenders. "We use it as a motivation to work hard. It's really exciting. I couldn't play with a better group of guys than our class of 2010."