Updated Fri, Oct 25, 2013 7:49 am
In each of the past two seasons the Athens Bulldogs used signature Week 10 wins against the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes to clinch the Tri Valley Conference crown.
Things are a little bit different in 2013.
The most important game of the season in the TVC-Ohio will indeed feature the Bulldogs (8-0, 3-0 TVC-Ohio). But it will take place in Week 9 when a new challenger, the Meigs Marauders (6-2, 3-0 TVC-Ohio), invades The Plains to play for all the marbles.
“It’s certainly going to be a special [game],” Athens coach Ryan Adams said. “Any time you play for the league title, it’s going to be special.”
The winning team of Friday night’s contest will guarantee itself at least a share of the TVC championship. But since Athens and Meigs finish up the season playing against the teams ranked fifth and sixth in the conference, it is likely that the winner of this tilt will stand alone atop the standings at the end of the year.
The Bulldogs are used to the spotlight. They are looking to “three-peat” as the kings of the TVC-Ohio.
The Marauders, meanwhile, have already doubled their win total from a season ago. They are in the running for their first playoff spot in five years.
“We certainly have been watching and keeping a close eye on Meigs this season,” Adams said. “They certainly look like they’re a much improved football team. We’re looking to get out there and have a good showing against a good opponent.”
Not only is Meigs having an exceptional season, they are currently one of the hottest football teams in Southeast Ohio.
Since being shut out by Trimble’s dominant defense five weeks ago, the Marauders have gone 4-0, putting up 44 points per game and outscoring their opponents by an average of 31 points.
“We have our team believing,” Meigs coach Mike Bartrum said. “They’re believing in our system and our foundation and, as coaches, we are trying to put our players in the best position to be successful every week.”
The Marauders’ dynamic quarterback Kaileb Sheets, running back Michael Davis, and tight end Ty Phelps lead Meigs’ offense. Cody Bartrum also takes a lot of snaps under center, allowing Sheets to move to receiver.
“It seems like their size is more athletic than it’s been in the past,” Adams said. “They have more true athletes out there and they’ve done a nice job with their schemes, making it harder to key on any one player.”
Of course, Meigs’ will have their hands full trying to keep up with Athens’ offense, which is averaging over 56 points per game.
“They’re at another level compared to a lot of teams in Southeast Ohio,” Bartrum said. “We have to make them take longer drives if we can. It comes down to can you maintain them? Can you make them take more than two plays to score?”
With all the buzz surrounding the Bulldogs’ offense, it is easy to forget that Athens’ defense has also been stout, yielding the fewest points in the TVC-Ohio this season.
“You can’t underestimate their defense,” Bartrum said. “Their offense shines with their quarterback, their running back, a couple receivers, and a good line to protect them. But their defense flies around too.”
There is no denying that Athens has established itself as the team to beat in the TVC-Ohio. The Bulldogs have not lost a conference game in nearly 1,100 days.
Meigs seems to be the team best suited to pull the upset, but the Marauders’ coach knows that there will be no room for error if his team wants to dethrone the Bulldogs.
“We need to make plays,” Bartrum said. “We’ll have to be at our ‘A’ game. We have to have a perfect storm to be able to hang with these guys, they’re that good.
“We’re going to be physical and we’ll see what happens,” he continued. “We’re excited. Competition makes everybody better and that’s what we want.”
The Bulldogs and Marauders will clash on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Basil Rutter Field in Athens.