The 2019 season is still young, but the Nelsonville-York Buckeyes have already had some hurdles put in front of them.
The Buckeyes were hit by some nagging injuries that kept playmakers Keegan Wilburn and Brandon Phillips on the sidelines for the majority of their three scrimmages.
As a result, valuable practice time was lost as the Buckeyes implemented a different offense from a year ago with a no-huddle look.
Wilburn and Phillips were both back for the season opener, but the powerful Trimble Tomcats stood in their way.
Trimble — with eight starters back on defense from a state runner-up squad — didn’t aid N-Y in its attempt to find any offensive cohesion.
The Buckeyes finished with 100 yards of offense, including negative-four yards on the ground in a 35-0 season-opening loss.
Nelsonville-York head coach Rusty Richards knows that better days can be ahead, but that being able to have everyone back on the practice field for another week will only help as the new offense continues to take shape.
“We haven’t had our kids, so our timing’s off a little bit between our quarterback and our receivers,” Richards said. “With getting Brandon back and Keegan back for the first game, we had to switch some kids formation wise and fill in for them, so now they’re back to their original spots. I think that got them a little bit confused. A lot of the formations are the same stuff we’ve used in the past, we just went to the shotgun instead. But there’s definitely room for improvement.”
While Nelsonville-York hopes another week on the practice field will help, the next opponent won’t be any easier.
The Buckeyes will travel to Fort Frye to take on the Cadets. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday.
Fort Frye, just like Trimble, is coming off a regional-championship season. The Cadets were 12-1 in 2018, emerging as champions of Division VI, Region 23. Their season ended in the state semifinals with a 35-18 loss to eventual state champion Kirtland.
The Buckeyes will still have to deal with another injury. Junior Zach Taylor caught two passes for 50 yards against Trimble and played a solid game at cornerback, but suffered a broken collar bone on a catch in the final seconds of the game.
Taylor is likely out for the season, and leaves a hole to fill in the lineup.
“I know we gave up 35 points, but I don’t know what we would have given up if he wasn’t out there,” Richards said. “I think he had one missed tackle. Probably had 10 or 11 solos in midfield and he tackled some very good runnings backs and quarterback and he dropped them right there. Plus he had two good catches.
“He had surgery (Sunday),” Richards added. “Went well. They had to put a plate in there. We’re praying for a speedy recovery for him.”
Richards said that Wilburn will play more defense at safety, and that Taylor’s twin brother Alec and junior Kobi Bennington will be in the mix to get more time at cornerback.
“We told the kids (Monday) in the film room, it’s a big loss and somebody is going to have to step up,” Richards said.
Fort Frye (1-0) is coming off a 34-12 victory over Belpre to open the season, pulling away from a 13-12 halftime lead.
Tyler Fisher, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, led Fort Frye with 123 yards on 18 carries.
He’s a familiar player to the Buckeyes’ coaching staff. Fisher had 41 yards rushing and 35 yards receiving as a sophomore in Nelsonville-York’s 26-20 overtime win over Fort Frye in the 2017 regional semifinals.
“He gave us fits two years ago as a sophomore in the playoff game,” Richards said.
Junior Brian Adkins is another threat, as he gained 85 yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Belpre.
Sophomore Ian Ellis is a new face as the Cadets’ quarterback, as he replaced four-year starter Tate Engle.
Ellis will still run a wing-T attack that is familiar for 12th-year head coach Eric Huck.
It will be another challenge for the Buckeyes’ defense, which gave up 377 yards on 53 rushes against Trimble’s wishbone attack.
“There is similarities,” Richards said of facing the Tomcats and the Cadets. “They’re going to go right at you. The thing that’s probably a little different, even though they are what we consider a wing-T team, they do make you cover the whole field. So they’re going to jet sweep you, they’re going to fake that jet sweep and they’re going to hit you fast with that fullback trap. They like to throw a lot of wheel routes out of the backfield.
“They have some kids back. They played two years ago and started against us. They have a good offensive line.”
Richards said that Fort Frye had seven starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, so the Buckeyes’ offense will once again face a veteran unit.
“Our two toughest games are probably right off the rip here,” he said. “We need to see improvement this week.”
Getting Wilburn loose will be a key for the Buckeyes. He was held to negative-nine yards of total offense against Trimble, but only had seven touches.
The Cadets will surely remember Wilburn. He had 109 yards receiving as a sophomore — including touchdown catches of 55 and 32 yards — in the playoff win over Fort Frye.
Friday’s winner figures to cash in on playoff computer points as the season progresses. Both teams compete in Division VI, Region 21.
A win over the Cadets would figure to vault the Buckeyes right into the playoff conversation. Fort Frye has gone 38-1 in the regular season over the last four seasons, with three undefeated campaigns.
Including the playoffs, Fort Frye is 44-5 since the start of the 2015 season.
“Whoever does win it, you’re always going to get playoff points, because usually we’re going to win our fair share of games,” Richards said. “Very seldom do they not win seven or eight games. I think it’s a great game for us. Just like the Trimble game, whoever wins that first week always gets playoff points. Should be a fun one.”
The game is a matchup of the last two Region 23 champions, as the Buckeyes went onto the Division VI Final Four after their overtime win over Fort Frye two seasons ago.
Richards tried to get Fort Frye on the Buckeyes’ schedule for week 2 a season ago, but the Cadets declined the matchup and instead continued playing Northridge.
When Fort Frye ended up with a week 2 opening back in the winter, the two teams finally came to an agreement. Richards likes the matchup being a fixture on the Buckeyes’ schedule.
“When I first got the job, I called up and tried to get them on the schedule pretty quickly because we had a week 2 opening,” Richards said. “They declined for whatever reason, but we finally got it set up. When I was looking for teams, I was like ‘why not?” It’s an hour and 10 minute, pretty nice, straight drive. And we’re in the same region. Should be a good atmosphere.”