SIDNEY — Lehman Catholic struggled to play consistently in its first three games. But now that Northwest Central Conference play has begun, the Cavaliers are hoping to ride to a league championship and another playoff berth.
Lehman opened league play with a 63-0 win over Ridgemont last Saturday and will try to follow with another big win at Marion Elgin this Friday. Elgin lost by four points in a shootout with Riverside last Friday.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Lehman coach Dick Roll said. “We’ve got to keep working at it. It’s going to be a challenge for us (this) week. Elgin brings a totally different offensive package. That’s our challenge.”
Lehman lost 23-6 to Fort Recovery in Week 1 and followed with a 52-21 loss at Miami East. They rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Graham in Week 3 and followed with last Friday’s big win over Ridgemont.
Though the Cavaliers brought back many two-way starters from last season’s team, youth — particularly on the lines — contributed to a rough start.
“We’ve had a lot of bad snaps, and we didn’t have any (against Ridgemont),” Roll said. “We haven’t been very consistent. We’ve been working at it and we’re getting better at it, and that’s what it’s all about. We’re never a good starting team, but we’ve finished well.”
Senior quarterback Elliott Gilardi ranks first among NWCC players in passing yards (724) and second in passing TDs (5). He’s also sixth in the league with 236 rushing yards and has run for three TDs. Senior receiver Bradly Haynes has 14 receptions for 236 yards, while sophomore Brendan O’Leary has 12 receptions for 198 yards.
Elgin has two running backs which gained over 1,500 yards last season in seniors Danyal Minton and Brandon Kelley. Minton was all-Ohio after rushing for 2,137 yards and 31 touchdowns and Kelly ran for 1,518 yards and 19 TDs.
Lehman, which beat Elgin 55-8 last season, won every NWCC game by at least 30 points a year ago.
Ansonia at Fort Loramie
Fort Loramie (3-1, 2-0 Cross County Conference) is hitting a groove as the season reaches its midpoint.
After having defensive struggles in their first two games, Covington and Miami East had problems moving the ball against the Redskins in CCC matchups the last two weeks. They’ll try for a similar performance on Friday against Ansonia (3-1, 2-0), which earned a 28-19 win last week over recent CCC heavyweight Bethel.
Fort Loramie held Miami East’s stout rushing attack to 130 yards on 34 carries in last week’s 21-7 win. Fort Loramie coach Spencer Wells said it’s the best the unit has run the new 4-3 scheme this season.
“With a completely new scheme, it takes game reps, it really does,” Wells said. “You’ve seen over the last couple of weeks as we’ve gotten more reps that the guys are playing faster, they’re reading their keys faster and they’re playing more disciplined.
“I thought they flied around and pursued really, really well to the football. (Miami East) has some great running backs, and the way we pursued really limited their ability to come back and get big plays.”
The Redskins will face another wing-T attack this week from the Tigers, though Wells said they do less jet sweeps than Miami East.
Ansonia averages 319.5 yards per game, with 289.3 coming on the ground. Senior Devyn Sink has run for 394 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries while senior Matthew Shook has run for 319 yards and three TDs on 44 carries.
“They want to run right at you and don’t really make any secret about it,” Wells said. “They’ll mix in a play-action pass here or there, but they want to pound the football. …Whenever you play those offenses, as a defense, you have to be very disciplined.
“We stressed that last week and they’re getting a lot of the same messages from our defensive coaches this week — playing disciplined, reading their keys — because the moment you don’t, they hit you with the big play.”
Wells said the offense has shown continuous signs of improvement as well. Sophomore quarterback Carson Moore — who hasn’t been sacked yet — completed 14-of-19 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. He leads the CCC with a total of 743 passing yards.
“We’re getting better and better with our timing and our execution,” Wells said. “Up front, our offensive line has done a really good job of protecting quarterback. …I think that says a lot about the pride they take and doing that, and that allows a sophomore quarterback to play with more confidence because he trusts his line and doesn’t have happy feet.
Carter Mescher and Mason Kemper rank in the top six in the CCC in receptions and receiving yards. Mescher has caught 18 passes for 346 yards while Kemper has caught 15 passes for 147 yards.
The win over defending CCC champ Miami East (3-1, 1-1) has put the Redskins in the driver’s seat for the league title. And though it’s only Week 5, a win over Ansonia would go a long way toward wrapping it up.
None of the last five of Fort Loramie’s opponents finished over .500 last year, and they have a combined 11-9 record heading into this week.
Parkway at Minster
Minster will be looking for defensive improvement when it hosts Parkway in a Midwest Athletic Conference game on Friday.
The Wildcats (3-1, 1-1 MAC) have allowed an average of 377.25 yards per game on defense — only slightly less than Parkway (1-3, 1-1), which ranks last among the 10 MAC teams after allowing an average of 409 yards in its first four games.
Minster allowed a season-high 460 yards in a 31-20 loss to Coldwater last Friday. The Cavaliers’ offensive output was split almost evenly between rushing and passing.
The Wildcats get a far different look from Parkway, which gets most of its 306 yards per game average on the ground. Junior Nick Hawk ranks third in the conference after gaining 434 rushing yards in the first four weeks, while quarterbacks Eli Rich and Preston Stober have combined thrown for 482 yards.
Minster juniors Alex Schmitmeyer and Jacob Niemeyer continue to rank among the league’s best in rushing yardage. Schmitmeyer has gained 377 rushing yards and scored 11 touchdowns while Niemeyer has rushed for 248 yards and thrown for 712 yards and seven TDs with one interception.
The Wildcats average 331 yards and 30.25 points per game.
St. Henry at New Bremen
New Bremen (3-1, 1-1) will try to maintain momentum from a big win heading into a MAC game against St. Henry. The Cardinals bounced back from a 42-7 Week 3 loss to Anna with a 19-15 win over Fort Recovery.
St. Henry (3-1, 1-1) averages 345.75 yards and 37 points per game and New Bremen averages 308 yards and 25 points.
New Bremen senior quarterback Nolan Bornhorst is in the top 10 in the MAC in rushing yards (194) and passing yards (586). St. Henry running back Zach Niekamp leads the MAC with 634 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
The Cardinals have given up an average of 238.7 yards and 19.25 points per game while St. Henry has allowed an average of 100.25 yards and 8.75 points per game.
Delphos St. John’s at Versailles
Both Versailles (1-3) and St. John’s (1-3) will be looking to rebound after rough starts in MAC play.
The Tigers dropped to 0-2 in conference play in with a 21-7 loss to Parkway while the Blue Jays dropped their second consecutive lopsided league game in a 53-7 loss to Marion Local.
Both squads rank in the bottom two in the MAC in offense. Versailles averages 224 yards and 18.25 points per game, while St. John’s averages 152 yards and 18.5 points.
Both teams are run-heavy. Jake Poling (185 rushing yards, 3 TDS) is Versailles’ leading rusher while Brady Grothaus (155, 1) is St. John’s leading rusher.
The Tigers have committed 12 turnovers — the most of all MAC schools — while St. John’s has committed four.
Versailles has given up an average of 316.75 yards and 27.75 points per game on defense. Evan Hiestand leads the MAC with eight sacks, while Brayden Kiehl has recorded three.
St. John’s defense has allowed 30.75 points and 336 yards per game.
Riverside at Hardin Northern
The Pirates (2-2, 1-0 NWCC) will try to keep their offensive resurgence going on Friday at Hardin Northern (1-3, 0-1).
After not scoring the first two weeks of the season and turning over the ball over 10 times, Riverside has scored 69 points the last two weeks, most of which came in a 48-44 shootout win over Elgin last Friday.
Junior quarterback Joe Cotterman’s emerging running ability has helped the Pirates progress. He ran for 62 yards the first two weeks but ran for 97 yards in a 21-7 win over Indian Lake in Week 3 and for 142 yards and one touchdown in last Friday’s win over Elgin. Junior Brandon Sacks also had his biggest game of the season last Friday with 141 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.
Hardin Northern lost its NWCC opener 73-13 at Lima Perry last week. The Polar Bears started the season with a 35-14 win over Arcadia but have been outscored 148-58 the last three weeks.
Sophomore quarterback Owen Wetherill leads all NWCC teams with 537 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and is third in passing with 481 yards and five touchdowns and five interceptions.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.