Hopeful Hornets head into conference play
COAL GROVE, Ohio — Spirits have been a bit higher this week at Coal Grove High School football practices.
A 35-27 win at Waverly last week ended a season-opening four-game losing streak for the Hornets and provided momentum leading into the Ohio Valley Conference opener Friday at Rock Hill.
“Everybody felt so good coming off the field,” said Isaiah Gunther, a running back and defensive back for the Hornets. “It’s like we have new energy. We came together as a team.”
Coal Grove is the defending OVC champion.
While the Hornets started the season 0-4, the combined record of those opponents is 17-4. Meigs is 3-2, Wheelersburg and Valley are 5-0 and Raceland is 4-2 with the losses by a point to Ashland and three to Lawrence County.
“We knew what we were in for when we scheduled the games,” Hornets coach Dave Lucas said. “We’ve been playing some good football. We believe we match the guys going in. The goal, though, is to get ready for the last five (OVC).”
Coal Grove’s young on defense (four seniors play) and that contributed to allowing 183 points in the first four games. Meigs scored 46, Wheelersburg 39, Valley 56
and Raceland 42.
“On defense, it’s experienced teams against a team trying to find its way,” Lucas said. “We’ve consistently improved. We’ve become a more intelligent team.”
“We played some good teams, but it’s still a disappointing start,” said Conor Markins, a receiver and defensive back. “Coaches have put us in good spots, we just didn’t execute.”
Turnovers and tackling have been two of the issues. Turnovers late against Meigs led to defeat.
“Tackling in space has been an issue,” Lucas said. “We have to limit our mistakes and make plays.”
On offense, Coal Grove still has a dominating running game. The Hornets can go to the air as well with quarterback Jesse Rigsby.
Against Meigs, Rigsby threw for 352 yards and two scores. Markins caught four passes for 109 yards.
Against Wheelersburg, the Hornets rushed for 394 yards and got within 24-20 before the Pirates scored twice late to put it away.
Against Waverly, the Hornets started the game with a 15-play, 83-yard scoring drive. Sid Tucker made his first start at fullback (Tanner Murphy was held out) and rushed for 135 yards and a TD. D.J. Miller had 110 yards on 17 carries and three scores. Gunther’s 95-yard kickoff return for a TD in the fourth period proved to be the difference. He also ran for 140 yards against Raceland.
Markins didn’t get overly excited after the Waverly game.
“It’s big to win, but we made the same mistakes and penalties that’s killed us,” Markins said. “We have plenty of missed tackles and blocking assignments. We did come together and that gives us momentum for the league.”
South Point went 4-1 in non-league action to lead the OVC, but only one opponent had a winning record. Fairland (2-3) has lost to Gallipolis, Wheelersburg and Athens the past three weeks. Those three teams are a combined 14-1.
“The league is more balanced than it looks,” Lucas said.
Often coaches and players say a team is the champion until someone takes that team down. Gunther doesn’t want to surrender the OVC crown.
“Our heads were down after Meigs and low after Wheelersburg,” he said. “The league is here now. People see we all work hard. Our heads are up now. Better than heads down.
“We got to see what a win looks like. We want to keep going.”