The New Albany High School football team might not have a workhorse running back this season as it did the past few years with Victor White, but the Eagles are getting contributions from across the field as they hit another midseason stride.
Michiah Burton and Alex Cox are splitting running back duties behind quarterback Jalin Jackson, who has made two consecutive starts, and even cornerback Gabe Owusu-Antwi pitched in on offense as New Albany defeated host Canal Winchester 23-3 on Sept. 29 in the OCC-Capital Division opener for both teams.
The Eagles will seek their third consecutive win after a 1-3 start when they play host to Newark on Friday, Oct. 6.
Cox rushed for 79 yards on 15 carries against the Indians. Jackson added 78 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, Owusu-Antwi had 47 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and Burton was held to 29 yards on 14 carries.
For the season, Burton has rushed for 426 yards and three touchdowns on 104 carries.
The running back-by-committee approach is a departure from White, whose 3,066 yards and 41 touchdowns on 381 carries from 2014-16 made him the program's all-time leading rusher despite missing the second half of last season with a shoulder injury.
"Michiah can bring a physical presence (at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds) and has the speed. Alex is a true sprinter (at 5-9, 170) that we're trying to get more reps so he can see things live," coach Pat Samanich said. "Gabe (who is 5-8, 145) gives you a little bit of everything. Michiah did a nice job catching the ball (against Canal Winchester), but he did a great job blocking for Gabe and it really helped out. It was a great team win. We pushed the guys hard and they responded."
Newark is trying that same approach as it has stumbled to its fourth 0-6 start in the past eight seasons. Coming off a 5-5 year in 2016, its best record since going 8-3 in 2005 for its first playoff appearance in 30 years and second in program history, the Wildcats lost to Big Walnut 47-14 on Sept. 29 and have been outscored 139-35 in their past three games.
Newark played without seniors Christian Black and D'ante Woods, a defensive back and linebacker, respectively, against Big Walnut. Sophomore quarterback Jaden Woods, who was making his first start, was injured in the second quarter and replaced by freshman Jake Sherman.
Sherman threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jade Batross in the second quarter and a 7-yard score to DeJuan Shackleford in the fourth.
Likewise, New Albany has some different contributors, but Samanich likes his team's recent trend.
"They are starting to believe," he said. "We have a lot of young guys playing and when you're 1-3, it's easy to doubt yourself. We pride ourselves on working hard and moving forward. To get 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to do that week in and week out, it was great to see them see the reward on the scoreboard."