EAST PALESTINE-When East Palestine and Beaver Local take the field Friday at East Palestine High School it will be a battle of two programs fighting to establish a strong foundation.
Neither the Bulldogs (0-2) or the Beavers (1-1) came into the season as realistic playoff contenders but that doesn't diminish the sense of purpose they are bringing to every game.
"This is the second year of our process to build this program," Beaver Local coach Jeremy McElroy said. "Every week is an opportunity for our young players to get more reps and keep improving."
"Coming into this week we feel we are a lot further along than even a couple of weeks ago," East Palestine coach Tony Foster said. "There are a number of plays we made last week against Mathews that we wouldn't have made in week one."
Each team got blown out in their openers. The Bulldogs dropped Foster's first game as head coach 54-6 to McDonald and the Beavers fell to Crestview 36-7. The second week was a different story for Beaver Local. Behind 233 rushing yards from sophomore Robert Johnston, the Beavers ran over Oak Glen 30-7 for their biggest offensive output in nearly four years. It was a good step forward for an offensive backfield comprised of entirely new starters. Johnston will get another big workload this week with senior Morley Marsden missing his second straight game with an injury.
"This year we have a lot of inexperienced players, and I think they came out a little nervous in the first game against Crestview," McElroy said. "Getting a win under our belt right away in the second week was huge."
Foster came away impressed with Johnston and said his defensive line will have to improve in a hurry this week.
"Johnston is a very smooth runner," Foster said. "He's not flashy but he does a great job going north-to-south. Our technique must get better up front. We got knocked off the ball quite a bit last week."
Though they didn't come away with the win, the Bulldogs exited their second game feeling optimistic. East Palestine had the ball at the Mathews 26 trailing 28-27 with one minute to go when they coughed up a fumble that was returned 72 yards to ice the game.
"We did a lot of things well, especially on offense," Foster said. "Our blocking technique on the offensive line has improved a lot, which allowed us to consistently move the ball and break some big plays."
The biggest play for the Bulldogs came early in the game when halfback Luke Cope broke a 99-yard run. Cope switched to the position after serving as the quarterback for the last two seasons. Stepping into his spot has been the tandem of Justin Fristik and Nick Monteleone.
"Justin and Nick each bring something a little different to the table in our option offense," Foster said. "Justin has shown some nice deception with how he handles the ball, while Nick brings an extra gear when we put him in."
"Monteleone and Cope both have big-play ability," McElroy said. "The big key for us will be controlling the line of scrimmage like we did last week."
Regardless of what the scoreboard reads at the end of Friday's game both teams know it's another small step in a long process."
"We are focusing on the process more than the product right now," McElroy said. "Even in the Crestview game, we were down by 30 points in the second half but I told our guys they were still getting to play a game they love and they need to use the rest of the game as a chance to get better. If stay focused on the process wins and losses will eventually take care of themselves."
"We've told our guys they've done a nice job so far but there are still a ton of things to work on," Foster said. "We turned the ball over six times last week and left a lot of other opportunities on the field. There is still a long way to go"
Other ITCL Games
Leetonia at Mathews-The Bears will look to take better care of the ball after six turnovers in the first two games.
"We didn't play a real crisp game on Friday," Leetonia coach Matt Altomare said. "We had three special teams turnovers, and a big special teams breakdown. We have to get better in the kicking game."
The turnovers have stunted Leetonia's offensive production through the first two games, with the Bears scoring a combined 34 points.
"We have to score more points," Altomare said. "That would be our big focus. It's that and to stay healthy."
Mathews has already eclipsed their 2012 win total. The Mustangs are off to a 2-0 start after surviving East Palestine last week. Leetonia won last year's game 42-0.
"I plan on being 2-1 Saturday morning," Lineman Chase Stark said. "We beat them pretty bad last year, but they're 2-0 this year, and we're 1-1. We still have some work to do."
Liberty at Crestview-The Rebel offense has kept humming along so far in 2013 with a pair of easy wins over Beaver Local and West Branch. Quarterback Collin Gilbert has rushed for 373 yards and accounted for nine of Crestview's 11 touchdowns this season. Liberty also has a dangerous weapon under center. Asim Pleas ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns to help the Leopards defeat Niles 42-33 last week. Freshman running back Lynn Bowden chipped in 132 yards on the ground.
Steubenville Central at Columbiana-The Clippers are playing their home opener after dropping back-to-back one point losses to Bridgeport and Leetonia. Columbiana beat the Crusaders in a thriller last season 38-35. Steubenville Central is off to a 2-0 start, averaging 51 points a game in wins over Bellaire and Frontier. Quarterback Brenton Colabella has thrown for over 300 yards and five touchdowns in the first two weeks.
Southern at Mineral Ridge-After a strong second half against Waterloo in the first week, the Indians were stopped cold by Wellsville 42-0 last Friday. They will look to get back on track against a Mineral Ridge team that is off to a 2-0 start after a 21-17 comeback win over Lisbon. The two teams have swapped divisions this year in the ITCL with Southern moving to the upper tier and Mineral Ridge dropping to the lower tier.
South Range at Garfield Heights Trinity-South Range rolled over Trinity 42-12 last season. The teams have played every year since 2010 with the Raiders winning each time. Each squad is 2-0. The Trojans have a pair of 30-plus point victories over Ledgemont and Cleveland Rhodes. Billy Goodall has gone over 100 yards rushing in each of the first two games for the Raiders.
United at Newcomerstown-The Eagles are in a hole after dropping two close games in the final minutes to Malvern and Salem. Necomerstown is off to a 2-0 start after going 4-6 last season. The Trojans are going for their first winning record since 2003.