Grove City at Central Crossing: Comets, Dawgs to 'battle for the city'

DAVE PURPURA
dpurpura@thisweeknews.com
Austin Allmon and the Grove City football team will play at Central Crossing for the second consecutive year Friday, Aug. 28. Allmon, a tight end and defensive lineman, is among the top returnees for first-year Dawgs coach Matt Shaul.

As the first day of practice on which the Central Crossing football team could go full-contact wrapped up, tight end/linebacker Tristen Needham acknowledged what the Comets were working toward throughout August -- a chance at revenge.

Grove City got its only win last year at the expense of Central Crossing, holding off the Comets 18-15, and the teams will open their seasons against each other Friday, Aug. 28, in the fourth installment of their crosstown rivalry.

"That's the battle for the city. We have to take it back," Needham said. "We have a job to do. We have a bitter taste in our mouth from last year."

Central Crossing will play host to Grove City for the second consecutive year. The Comets lead the all-time series 3-1.

Grove City's win last year snapped a 17-game losing streak that dated to the 2017 season.

"It's definitely different having Week 1 be a rivalry game right off the bat. You can prepare for whatever you think you might see but once the whistle blows, sometimes you can throw everything out the door," first-year Dawgs coach Matt Shaul said. "Our coaching staff has a lot of continuity and so does theirs, so we do have some idea of what we're going to see and they probably do, too."

Given the abbreviated preseason thanks to safety regulations related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Comets coach Trevor White expects that openers for all teams -- if not games in future weeks -- could be ragged.

"There are a lot of colorful terms you could use to describe a situation like that. It just depends on what time of day it is," White said. "On one hand, you're thinking about football, all the questions and how you can use a two-week period (between the first day of full contact and the regular season). You don't have the usual scrimmages. You're worried about kids, health and safety because they haven't had that time with each other and that's not something you can make up just with practice reps.

"You get done driving yourself nuts thinking about that, and then you have the actual COVID-19 protocols. It's the first rodeo for all of us."

The Dawgs will run the wing-T on offense under Shaul, a 2001 graduate of Grove City who succeeded Tennyson Varney. Varney now is coaching at his alma mater, Hamilton Township.

Keaton Hughes, Zakk Tschirhart and Landon Yokum have vied for the starting quarterback job, and their top threats will include running back/linebacker Cole Becker, wide receivers Justin Catalfina and Lukas Hamilton and tailback T.J. Franklin.

Central Crossing is breaking in a new starting quarterback in Rudy Risinger. Running back Kyren Glaze returns after rushing for 338 yards on 87 carries and catching five passes for 69 yards and a touchdown behind a veteran offensive line led by Andrew Basham, Freddy Burchett, Braydon Farrell, Nate Smith and Max Webb.

Burchett is in his third year as starting center and also will play nose guard.

Neither team has won a season opener since 2014. The Comets are 1-16 all-time in openers, and the Dawgs have started 1-0 only once since 2006.

"Ultimately, we're focused on ourselves and making sure we're sound," Shaul said. "Our upperclassmen and really all our players are excited about this week. It's exciting to play a game right within your town instead of getting on (Interstate) 270 and going to another suburb. The guys got a taste of success in this game last year and they've had their disappointment, too. The (rivalry) is something special."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

GROVE CITY at CENTRAL CROSSING

*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28

*Last meeting: 2019, Grove City 18-15

*Top Dawgs: Austin Allmon (TE/DL), Cole Becker (RB/LB), Carter Binford (WR/DB), Justin Catalfina (WR/DB), Keaton Hughes (QB), Zach Nelson (RB/DB) and Hayden Yerian (RB/LB)

*Top Comets: Freddy Burchett (OL/DL), Kyren Glaze (RB/DB), Jonathan Mathers (TE/LB), Tristen Needham (TE/LB), Jae'V'on Pass (RB/DB), Rudy Risinger (QB) and Nick Tiegler (RB/LB)