Updated Thu, Nov 14, 2013 2:51 pm
Two of Gridiron Glory’s elite teams. Two teams with similar résumés. The Scotties and the Bulldogs. Tri-Valley versus Athens – it’s on.
This second-round, marquee playoff matchup is sure to be an instant classic on Friday night at Logan High School. A matchup of two big-time teams, both with hard-nosed defenses and high-powered offenses. The Scotties of Tri-Valley score an average of over 40 points per game and the Bulldogs of Athens score over 58 points per game.
“Obviously, they’re very explosive — they have a bunch of good athletes,” Tri-Valley head coach Justin Buttermore said of the Athens attack. “(Joe Burrow) is exceptional. He has got to be one of the top quarterbacks in the state.”
Burrow, a Gridiron Glory Player of the Finalist, has thrown for more than 3,100 yards for 41 touchdowns through the first 11 weeks of the season. But he’s only half of the two-headed monster in Athens’ backfield. Running back Trae Williams has provided the spark on the ground for the Bulldogs this season, rushing for over 1,600 yards and 31 touchdowns. The junior also found the end zone seven times in last week’s playoff win over Logan Elm.
“I think Williams is an excellent tailback, certainly a good burst,” Buttermore complimented. He added that the Scotties’ running game is comparable. “We have a very young group very much like Athens and this group has continued to improve week-in-and-week-out.”
Tri-Valley is riding a seven-game win streak into its matchup with Athens after running New Philadelphia off of the field in Week 11. The Scotties amassed 374 yards on the ground behind running back Daniel “Bubby” Scott, who rushed for 208 yards and four touchdowns.
“Offensively, they give you a three-man punch with their running game,” Athens head coach Ryan Adams explained. “They’ll ride the ball in (Bubby’s) belly with a zone play, pull it, and next thing you know the quarterback’s going out around the end.”
“That’s the plan every week – we want to run the ball,” Buttermore said. “We’re a physical team and we want to run the football, but then have the ability to throw it, too.”
Athens, although undefeated, has been tested twice this season: Week 5 at Fairland, where they won 55-46, and last week against Logan Elm, when they won 74-55.
“Any time that you give up 55 points in a game and you’re going to play a team with more power behind their offense, it’s a big concern,” Adams said. “Sometimes we can get too comfortable behind our offense being able to put up points the way that it does, and we certainly can’t rest on what the offense does defensively.”
Adams recognized that Tri-Valley is possibly the best offense the Bulldogs have faced all season, and winning in week 12 could be on the shoulders of his defense.
“Were going to have to play our best game of the season defensively and do a much better job of tackling at a lower pad-level than what we’ve done the last few ballgames,” Adams said. “We’ll need to get some stops, which will certainly be crucial in this game for both teams.”
For the Scotties offense, time of possession will be crucial. Because Athens’ offense appears unstoppable at times, the best way to contain them is to keep their offensive unit on the sidelines — a strategy that Tri-Valley is familiar with.
“We have to be similar to (the) New Philadelphia (game). They were a very good offense and certainly we wanted to keep the ball away from them,” Buttermore said. “Your best bet in trying to beat Athens is to keep the ball away from them and in order to do that you have to control the ball.”
Both teams are in familiar positions as they each won their round two matchups in the 2012 playoffs, but then lost in the third round. With another trip to the regional final on the line, both teams are hungry for another opportunity.
“A few of these kids played, but a lot of them were along for the ride,” Buttermore said. “I think they do have a certain level of comfort with the fact that they’re used to winning in the playoffs and playing some place where they’ve never played before.”
“A lot of these offensive players that were a big part of the success last year,” Adams said, “this is what they’ve been waiting for — this opportunity to play against a really good opponent and prove themselves in the eyes of the people across the state, not just Southeast Ohio.”
And Athens got just what they wanted in a matchup with a very good Tri-Valley football team – a game that has been on the Bulldogs’ radar since before the season started, according to Coach Adams.
“Knowing that Tri-Valley and ourselves were in the same region this year, we kind of felt like our destinies were to meet this year and sure enough, here it is.”