Partly because his team hopes to bounce back from a close loss and partly because it is the OCC-Capital Division opener, New Albany football coach Bubba Kidwell did not mince words about the importance of the Eagles’ game Friday, Oct. 4, at Canal Winchester.
“This is the biggest game of the year for us,” Kidwell said. “We treated last week (a 38-35 home loss to Olentangy on Sept. 27) like a playoff game. All of our goals are still in front of us. All we can do is take everything one game at a time, but this is an important game for everything we want to accomplish.”
At 3-2, the Eagles will visit an Indians team that is 5-0 for the first time since 2008 and seeking its second consecutive league championship. Canal Winchester took early control of the OCC-Capital last year with a 30-28 win at New Albany in the league opener for both teams.
“I said when I took over here (in December 2016) that New Albany was the class of the league and the type of program we aspired to be,” Indians coach Josh Stratton said. “I think we’re heading in that direction. I feel good about the direction of our team on both sides of the ball. We got (New Albany) last year but they were the last team to beat us in our stadium (in 2017), so we probably owe them a little bit for that.”
The Indians won their 14th consecutive game and ninth in a row at home Sept. 27, routing Grove City 38-7.
Quarterback Jack Beeler completed 16 of 22 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Stephan Byrd had 114 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries and caught three passes for 98 yards and a score.
Two of Avery Musick’s three catches were for touchdowns.
Canal Winchester is averaging 37.4 points and 351.4 yards per game and has given up seven points three weeks in a row.
“Josh has a great system. I really like their quarterback and running back,” Kidwell said. “(Slotback and defensive back) Tyler Toledo seems like he’s been there about seven years. They’ll throw the ball a lot and they like to go deep. That’s the challenge for our defense, that they put some emphasis on going deep but they can run the ball really well, too.
“Defensively, they gave us a lot of problems last year. They’ll man up with our wide receivers and force us to throw. They like to play on your side of the line of scrimmage. We have a big task on our hands.”
New Albany gave up the game’s final 17 points Sept. 27, losing on a 37-yard field goal by Olentangy’s Hayden Olcott as time expired. Running backs Reed Hall and Mechi McCaulley rushed for 108 and 103 yards, respectively, and combined for three touchdowns for the Eagles, who did not convert a fourth-and-1 near midfield with about three minutes left to give Olentangy its final possession.
“They’re a little more balanced on offense now, and what I mean by that is they’re distributing the ball to more guys,” Stratton said. “Their quarterback (Brock Tibbitts) is really solid. They’ll throw the ball downfield. We have to make sure we’re not caught by their misdirection. They will be the most fundamentally solid team we’ve seen this year.”
Canal Winchester was projected to be first in Division II, Region 8 computer points this week. New Albany was projected to be 10th in Division I, Region 3, two spots out of the playoffs.