New Albany: Eagles preparing for 'similar' foe in Lancaster
The preseason turned for New Albany quarterback Brock Tibbitts on the afternoon of Aug. 18, when Gov. Mike DeWine announced that all fall sports across the state could go ahead with their seasons.
With Tibbitts and the Eagles preparing to open Friday, Aug. 28, at home against Lancaster, the proclamation that the game and all others would go on as scheduled brought a change in attitude.
"Being able to have that glimmer of hope to where we're working toward something and knowing we are preparing for something rather than just preparing 'if,' we know now that we'll have a game," Tibbitts said. "It's reassuring to work toward a goal and know we are playing Week 1."
Tibbitts, who showed during his first season as a starter that he was a capable passer in addition to an extra running threat, will help lead the Eagles in their first meeting against a Golden Gales team that like New Albany long has thrived with the wing-T offense under 23rd-year coach Rob Carpenter.
"You know what you'll get when you play them," Eagles coach Bubba Kidwell said. "Lancaster football is known throughout central Ohio as being a pretty hard-nosed program. I like to think our programs are similar. We've been able to use some of our own terminology (in preparation) because we do a lot of the same things."
Tibbitts, an Indiana baseball commit, completed 49 of 99 passes for 817 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions last year and rushed for 222 yards and six scores on 31 carries.
Running back Mechi McCaulley rushed 161 times for 1,355 yards and nine touchdowns, and wide receiver Owen Wilcox caught 18 passes for 363 yards and two scores.
New Albany returns seven starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that went 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the OCC-Capital Division, sharing the league championship with Canal Winchester and Groveport.
Carpenter, who played 10 seasons in the NFL as a running back with the Houston Oilers, Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, has led the Gales to eight playoff appearances since 2003 and has a 150-119 record at his alma mater.
Lancaster finished 2-7 last year and has not made the playoffs since 2016.
The Gales return their top running back in senior George Sherrick as well as junior fullback Ajay Locke and junior linebacker Sam Finck.
Lancaster graduated four starters on the offensive line, with the lone returnee being two-way starter Zindale Graf.
Senior quarterback Titan Johnson also plays defensive back.
For their part, Kidwell and the Eagles were just happy to escape a seemingly constant news cycle throughout the preseason during practice and hope Friday nights provide the same respite.
"Every day, something is changing, but we're fortunate just to be out here practicing and be around everybody. You forget about everything else when you're out there," Kidwell said. "I've been reminding the guys that what we can control is us, what we eat, who we hang out with, things like that. We're not worried so much about our opponents but more just controlling what we do as a program."
LANCASTER at NEW ALBANY
*When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28
*Last meeting: First meeting
*Top Golden Gales: Sam Finck (LB), Zindale Graf (OL/DL), Parker Hill (FB/LB), Titan Johnson (QB), Ajay Locke (FB), Christian Riley (TE) and George Sherrick (RB)
*Top Eagles: Braedon Elwer (OL/TE/DL), Ian Hoff (LB/K), Collin Johnson (OL/LS), Brock Kidwell (RB/QB/DB), Mechi McCaulley (RB), Brock Tibbitts (QB/P), Tyler Van Meter (RB/LB), Jaron Webster (OL) and Owen Wilcox (WR/DB)