There wasn’t much that didn’t go the Alexander Spartans’ way in their season opener.
Alexander successfully navigated a three-hour bus ride to take a 48-0 win at Bradford last Saturday.
Alexander held Bradford to negative-93 yards on the ground, and negative-43 yards of total offense. The Spartans gained 376 yards of total offense, with five different players finding their way to the end zone.
“All week we preached to our offensive and defensive lines that we had to win on both sides of the line of scrimmage,” third-year head coach Earich Dean said. “We had to block well in the running game to open up our play action passing game and we needed to force Bradford into making bad decisions on offense. After watching film we did just that. Both sides of the ball did a great job this week.”
The Spartans hit the ground running, as quarterback Kaleb Easley essentially had a perfect start to his season. He completed 8 of 9 passes — with the lone incompletion coming on a drop — for 156 yards and three touchdowns.
Michael Kelly (4 catches, 64 yards) and Matt Brown (2 catches, 61 yards, 2 touchdowns) are threats to catch the ball. Jordan Cantrell (12 carries, 102 yards, 2 touchdowns) shined in his first varsity start at tailback.
It was the first shutout for the Spartans’ defense since a 39-0 win over Federal Hocking to open the 2016 season.
It was certainly a game that the Spartans were expected to dominate in. The Railroaders have now lost 23 games in a row and compete in Division VII, while Alexander returns 16 starters and enters the season with high expectations.
The Spartans will receive more of a litmus test on Friday as they travel to Berne Union.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Berne Union was a playoff qualifier in Division VII a season ago, enjoying the type of program turnaround the Spartans are looking for this season.
The Rockets last made the playoffs in 2007, then posted nine consecutive losing seasons. They were 21-69 from 2008 through 2016, including three straight 1-9 campaigns from 2012 through 2014.
Head coach Tony Hurps was the team’s defensive coordinator during a 7-3 season in 2017, then took over as the head coach for last year’s 8-3 record and playoff spot.
Berne Union is a new addition to the schedule. Alexander played Chesapeake during week two the previous four seasons.
The Rockets will look different in 2019 though, after graduating four-year starting quarterback Zane Mirgon and tailback Chaz Dickerson, both of whom also played linebacker.
Alexander will see a freshman at quarterback on Friday, as ninth-grader Nate Nemeth takes over the offense.
The Rockets do return the bulk of their offensive and defensive lines, as those units up front will be the team’s strength.
“Berne Union graduated some key personnel last year,” Dean said. “However, they bring back a lot of starters also. They had to replace a four-year starting quarterback and running back, but the entire offensive and defensive lines return. They are very strong up front on both lines. Like Bradford, we have to control both sides of the line of scrimmage to be successful. They are very aggressive on defense and block very well on offense.”
Berne Union (1-0) also started the season on the right foot with a 42-12 win over West Muskingum to open the season. It was a game the Rockets led 42-0 by halftime.
Nick Heilman led Berne Union in rushing with 140 yards rushing.
The Rockets have won eight of their last nine regular season games, and played a pair of Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division teams last season.
They opened the 2018 year with a 26-0 win over Miller, but lost at Waterford, 34-14, in the first round of the playoffs.
Friday will mark the first of consecutive games against TVC-Ohio foes for Berne Union, which travels to Nelsonville-York in week three.
The Rockets should be one of the favorites to win the Mid-State League-Cardinal Division, with Harvest Prep no longer playing in the league.
Harvest Prep gave the Rockets their only league loss last season, 22-7.
“Berne Union is very well coached and they have some very good athletes,” Dean said. “It will be a very exciting game on Friday.”
The Spartans feel they are an improved unit, and Friday will offer the chance to show that against a playoff team from a season ago.
A win would also give Alexander its first 2-0 start since 2014.
“This is a big game for our program,” Dean said. “We want to be a successful football program and to accomplish that we have to add quality teams to our schedule. Adding Berne Union gives us another playoff team to play and it helps prepare us for our TVC schedule.”