Pride at Stake For New Lexington and West Muskingum

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It has been quite a long time since New Lexington and West Muskingum competed for a Muskingum-Valley League title in the same year, not since 2005 to be exact. That year the Tornadoes won the MVL and the Panthers finished second. Both teams hosted a playoff game and both were first-round exits.

Now fast forward 11 years and the two programs are holding steady with each other, except now at the bottom of the league.

With a single win between these two teams, it is not a secret that West Muskingum (0-6) and New Lexington (1-5) won’t be playing with league title aspirations on Friday in New Lexington.

This does not mean that the game is not a big deal to these teams.

“We are focused on this game like as if it’s the only game left on the schedule,” New Lexington coach David Rupe said. “We are preparing for them like we will do any other team, regardless of record. Our record is not any better, we have been struggling as well and we are telling our guys that this is the only game on the schedule and it’s extremely important.”

The Panthers and Tornadoes are similar in more ways than their record.

They both work heavily out of the shotgun formation and like to spread teams out with multiple threats. Through six games, neither has scored over 20 points, New Lexington averages only 12 points per game, while West Muskingum is worse with only eight points per game.

New Lexington enjoys coming out in four or five wide receiver sets and then running a quarterback draw with Bradley Clapper. This keeps the ball in their best playmaker’s hands and lets him use his versatility to move the sticks.

Clapper leads the team in both passing with 581 yards, 5 TDs as well as rushing with 445 yards, 6 TDs. He is an integral part to the Panthers attack and if New Lexington wants to add another “W” to their record they will need a big game out of Clapper.

Rupe understands that Clapper is a focal point to his offense but that does not mean he does not have other concerns about the offense.

“When it comes to offense, we need to move the chains,” Rupe said. “We can’t have as many three-and-outs. We have struggled with maintaining possessions and turnovers. And the three-and-outs have put our defense on the field for a long time.”

Perhaps that is the reason for New Lexington’s defensive struggles this year. It has just been on the field too often.

The Panthers have allowed over 25 points per game, fourth-highest in the MVL. That stat is not as bad, however, compared to West Muskingum, who has allowed an MVL-high 41 points per game to opposing offenses.

Like New Lexington, the Tornadoes rely heavily on their quarterback to move the ball. Matthew Burnett has been the lone bright spot for the West Muskingum offense, accounting for most of its touchdowns.

West Muskingum utilizes Burnett’s running ability by calling a lot of bootleg passes and read-options that keep the defense guessing. If the Tornadoes want to keep this game close, they will need a perfect game from their signal-caller.

A win for either team is imperative for confidence moving forward, especially for the younger guys in each of the respective programs. It is games like these that can decide between a 5-5 season or a potentially 0-10 season.

“We definitely need to get back on the winning track,” Rupe said. “Like I said, this game is the only one on our schedule.”