NELSONVILLE — The Nelsonville-York Buckeyes hopes of a league title and a playoff berth took a hit last week, but the season isn’t lost.
The Buckeyes will try to rebound this week as they travel across the county to take on the Alexander Spartans on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Nelsonville-York had a four-game winning streak end last Friday after a 36-7 loss to the Wellston Golden Rockets.
The Buckeyes led 7-6 late in the first half, but surrendered a touchdown to end the first half and then one to start the second half to fall behind 20-7. N-Y never recovered, falling to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division.
Nelsonville-York finished the game with four costly turnovers, and missed out on chances to score in the red zone. Wellston didn’t, and as a result the Rockets moved to 3-0 in the TVC-Ohio.
“We’ve watched the film,” Nelsonville-York coach Rusty Richards said. “We saw some of our missed opportunities. Wellston played a heck of a game, outplayed us. They finished drives and we didn’t, but there are still a lot of positives from Friday. Still things we’ve got to fix.”
Athens and Wellston lead the TVC-Ohio at 3-0 league marks and will meet on Friday at C.H. Jones Field, while N-Y and Vinton County are a game back at 2-1.
The Buckeyes no longer control their destiny. However, they do have games remaining against Athens and Vinton County. Should N-Y run the table and beat those teams, they would just have to hope Wellston might stub its toe in a league game against Athens or Vinton County.
But none of the results in other games across the league will matter to the Buckeyes unless they win their final three games. In terms of trying to win at least a share of a league title, or climb back into playoff position, every game is an absolute must win from here on out.
The Buckeyes will surely look to get senior Keegan Wilburn going against the Spartans. Wilburn scored on a 68-yard touchdown reception against Wellston, continuing his impressive feat of big plays.
Wilburn has 12 touchdowns this season, averaging exactly 50 yards a score. He has five touchdowns of 65 yards or more.
Getting him more touches will be important against the Spartans, as Wilburn’s long touchdown reception was his only catch in the loss to Wellston.
On the season, Wilburn has 20 receptions for 310 yards and 503 yards on 41 rushing attempts. He’s scored 67 career touchdowns and caught 94 passes going into the stretch run of his Buckeye career.
Wilburn and the Buckeyes will look to get back in the win column against the Spartans.
Alexander also enters at 4-3 overall, but 1-3 in the TVC-Ohio after last week’s 35-0 win over River Valley.
The Spartans are an experienced team, as they returned 16 starters to start the season.
Richards said the experience shows. After back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Spartans have matched 2018’s win total and are in position to go for the program’s second winning season since 2011.
“Same kids I’ve been seeing on film for three years,” Richards said. “They’re seniors now. They’re men. They’re not kids. You can tell they’ve been in the weight room and I think that’s why they’ve had the success they had.”
The defense has been the key for the Spartans. They have turned in two shutouts and have held the opposition to 14 points or less in five of their seven games.
Alexander allowed 23.8 points per game last season, but has lowered that number to 12.8 this season.
Senior linebackers Kaleb Easley and Luke Chapman lead the way.
“They’re flying to the football,” Richards said. “Coach (Earich) Dean has them playing fast. They’re opportunistic. Seems like they’ve forced a lot of turnovers. They’ve bent a little bit, but scoring is hard to come by on them. What I’ve noticed, even when they have bent, they come up with the key fumble, key interception just when they need it. That’s a lot of the discipline they have on defense.”
The matchup of Nelsonville-York’s offense against Alexander’s defense will go a long way toward deciding Friday’s outcome. The Buckeyes have averaged 37.7 points in their four wins, but just 9.3 points in their three losses.
While Alexander’s defense has been strong all season, the offense enjoyed a breakout game in the win over the Raiders.
Alexander had scored just 13 combined points in three straight losses, but got on track with 35 points against the Raiders.
Easley, the Spartans’ three-year starter at quarterback, led the way. He had 156 yards passing and 92 yards rushing, accounting for four touchdowns.
“He’s a tough kid,” Richards said. “He could have five carries, he could have 25. They’re not afraid to put the ball in his hands. Pretty accurate passer. Not the fastest guy, but he’s pretty elusive.”
Easley has accounted for 17 touchdowns on the season, passing for 961 yards and rushing for 369.
“The biggest thing he does is he gets that extra yard,” Richards said. “Very seldom do you see him get pushed backward. He’ll take that three-yard gain and turn it into four or five. At the end of the night, that adds up. Puts them in easy play calls. We have to contain him. We’ll have a lot of eyes put on him and try and limit him in the run game.”
Jordan Cantrell leads Alexander in rushing, gaining 463 yards on 79 carries. Matt Brown (13 receptions, 343 yards), Luke Chapman (17-132) and Chase Siefert (14-223) lead the way in receiving for the Spartans.
Richards said the Buckeyes were hopeful to get back junior linebacker Ethan Douglas, who has missed the last two games due to injury. Senior linebacker Mitchell Keplar and senior cornerback Austin Thrapp were also injured against Wellston, but Richards wasn’t sure on their statuses at the beginning of the week.
Nelsonville-York has won the last three meetings against the Spartans, and lead the all-time series 44-2-1.
The Buckeyes are 12th in the Division VI, Region 21 standings, with the top eight teams making the postseason.
While N-Y’s playoff odds remain murky, the league picture is simple. The Buckeyes have to gain wins over Alexander, Vinton County and Athens and hope for some help against Wellston.
Nelsonville-York still has plenty to play for, but a win over the Spartans is necessary to keep those hopes alive.
“With the league being so tough, if we can take care of business, there’s always that hope that someone can knock Wellston off,” Richards said. “They still have Athens and they still have Vinton. There’s always that hope and you’re playing for pride anyway. Playing for a winning record, winning season.”