The New Albany and Westerville South football teams both know what to expect from the other when the Eagles play host to the Wildcats on Friday, Aug. 30, in the season opener for both teams.
South coach Matthew Christ is hopeful that there is one huge difference this year from last, when New Albany cruised to a 31-7 victory and scored the game's final 24 points despite being outgained 310-293.
"We turned the ball over five or six times and I don't care who you are playing, you'll probably lose when you make that many mistakes. We can't let that happen again," Christ said. "But New Albany is New Albany. They'll do what they do and do it pretty well. They will run at you and they are physical. You know what you are getting with them."
Eagles coach Bubba Kidwell feels the same way about South, which is coming off a 3-7 season in which it lost six of its last seven games. New Albany went 7-3 last year but fell short of the playoffs in Division II, Region 7 despite winning its final four contests.
"They are probably the most athletic team we will face all year," Kidwell said. "We saw them a few times in scrimmages; their wide receivers are impressive and their quarterback (Peter Pedrozo) is very good. He started toward the end of last year and played some against us. And Michael Mansaray, he's difficult to stop wherever he is. You have to account for him at all times."
Mansaray, a versatile senior, rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns last season and also had 203 yards and a touchdown receiving. He also is an inside linebacker.
Pedrozo completed 54 of 105 passes for 691 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
"We're just trying to clean things up. The big question for us right now is can we be consistent?" Christ said. "We're trying to change the narrative here (after four consecutive losing seasons). That's a lot of motivation."
Junior Brock Tibbitts takes over as New Albany's starting quarterback after playing junior varsity last year. His top targets include wingback Brody Kidwell, who caught eight passes for 131 yards and four touchdowns last season and also anchors the secondary as a safety, and tight end Patrick Gurd, who had eight catches for 143 yards and two scores and anticipates filling both blocking and pass-catching duties this season.
Running back Alex Hall had 53 carries for 316 yards and three touchdowns in 2018.
The Eagles lost all of their starters on the defensive line to graduation and have senior Luke Dovell back to pace the linebackers.
This is New Albany's first game as a member of Division I. The Eagles, who had been in Division II since 2007, now are in Region 3.
South is in Region 7 for the third consecutive season.
This is the final year of the teams' two-year contract.
"When we first scheduled them, the first thing I thought of was their type of athleticism," Kidwell said. "They're going to hang with you for four quarters. It's a great test to open the season and we expect it to be a tough game for us."