Hilliard Davidson at Hilliard Darby: Wildcats, Panthers set for rivalry tilt

FRANK DIRENNA
fdirenna@thisweeknews.com
Junior running back Jonathan Weir and the Davidson football team will open at Darby on Thursday, Aug. 27, in Jeremey Scally's first game as coach of the Wildcats.

A new era for the Hilliard Davidson football team kicks off Thursday, Aug. 27, against a familiar opponent.

The Wildcats visit Darby for Jeremey Scally's first game as coach. A former assistant at Davidson, Scally coached Upper Arlington in 2019 and returned to the Wildcats to succeed Brian White, who stepped down after 21 seasons.

Scally served as an assistant under White for 12 seasons before his one year at UA.

"It will be a unique feeling," Scally said of his Davidson debut. "There's certainly a lot of pride in our program. There's certainly a lot of pride for me in this new role and just trying to move our program forward as best I can."

Davidson leads the all-time series against Darby 9-4, including a 30-14 win last season.

"It's probably the same storyline every year," Scally said. "Our kids grow up with these guys, they're neighbors. A lot of them know each other really well. A lot of them know each other outside of athletics. What has grown is there's a mutual respect between the two programs. Your kids get that one swing a year against Darby and they want to make it count."

Darby coach John Santagata said his team enters the game with a sound strategy.

"Obviously we just have to stick to the tenets of Darby football, which is play as a team, be as disciplined as possible, be relentless and try to stymie the run as much as possible," he said. "Also, not give up a deep play, and for us, establish the run and maintain the ball."

Davidson finished 7-4 last season, losing to Groveport 18-17 in the first round of the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. Darby went 7-3 and placed ninth in Region 3, one spot out of the postseason.

Once again, the teams should mirror each other on both sides of the ball. Both rely on the ground game and focus on stopping the run.

"They want to run the ball; we want to stop the run," Scally said. "We want to run the ball; they want to stop the run. I would call that mirrored philosophies. It might look a little bit different or it might look the same, but philosophically I think we're both trying to execute at a high level and play sound, disciplined football."

Senior Kyle Pepera has replaced 2020 graduate Evan Tekancic at quarterback to direct Davidson's triple-option offense.

Junior Jonathan Weir should be at tailback after rushing for a team-high 686 yards and 12 touchdowns on 145 carries last season, and junior Leo Nixon will play fullback.

Senior Kevin Roberts (TE/DL) is a key player on defense.

"They tend to traditionally play tremendous defense," Santagata said. "They make you earn everything. Their special teams traditionally have been extremely sound."

Darby also utilizes the option. It will be directed by junior Blake Horvath, a first-year starter at quarterback.

A key returnee is senior Connor Jones (RB/LB), who was named OCC-Cardinal Division Defensive Player of the Year last season after recording 95 tackles and four interceptions, including three that he returned for touchdowns. Jones also led the Panthers with 806 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 130 carries.

Senior Blayne Barnes (TE/DL) was second-team all-league.

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

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WEEK 1

HILLIARD DAVIDSON at HILLIARD DARBY

*When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27

*Last meeting: 2019, Davidson 30-14

*Top Wildcats: Jayden Humphrey (WR/DB), Jordan Lyles (WR/DB), Kaden Miller (OL/DL), Nick Monroe (DL), Leo Nixon (RB), Kyle Pepera (QB/LB), Blake Pettit (QB), Kevin Roberts (TE/DL), Owen Savage (OL/DL) and Jonathan Weir (RB)

*Top Panthers: Blayne Barnes (TE/DL), Sam Donnelly (OL/DL), James Hakes (RB/LB), Blake Horvath (QB/DB), Connor Jones (RB/LB), Kole Kendall (OL/DL), Luke Manche (RB/LB), Ben Marsh (RB/LB), Bradley Weaver (TE/DL) and Eric Williams (WR/DB)

Connor Jones, a senior linebacker and running back, returns for Darby after being named the OCC-Cardinal Defensive Player of the Year last season while also rushing for 806 yards and 13 touchdowns.