North coach Shawn Dodd typically prefers his team to have a short memory, but he’ll excuse the Rangers as they prepare for their rivalry game at South on Friday if they reflect back on last year’s 37-29 win over the Rebels that snapped a 16-year losing streak in the series.
Dodd hopes the rivalry week inspiration helps the Rangers to shake off last week’s rout to defending Division III state champion Kenston.
“It’s nice to have your rival after a game like that because the kids are instantly locked in,” Dodd said. “The kids have been great as far as focus goes. We had a good week of practice and got a little bit better every day.”
While the Rebels finished the 2018 season with a 2-8 record, the team is vastly improved and enters Friday’s contest with a 3-1 mark.
They also have a host of talented players on both sides of the ball that can hurt opposing teams including Justin Grosel, Rico Small, Danny Gallagher and Ira Sampson.
“South is a talented team,” Dodd said. “They have a lot of speed on offense. They like to run the football but they also create matchup problems. Rico is a heck of a player and you have to account for him but if you tried to load the box and double him then you leave Danny Gallagher all alone plus the quarterback can run it. They’re a matchup nightmare because they have a little bit of everything and you can’t just take any one thing away because they’re good enough to beat you in the other areas.”
North won’t rely on just its defense to keep the Rebels in check.
A strong running game with an optimistic passing game could help the Rangers keep the South offense off the field.
“That’s kind of our thing,” Dodd said about running the football and grinding down the game clock. “We don’t hide from it. Anybody that looks at us, the same with Kirtland and Chardon, both schools are going to run the football and that’s what we’re going to do. We also have to mix in the pass to get big plays out of it. We have enough talent that we can beat teams vertically and hit the big plays and hopefully get some quick scores in that aspect to keep them a little bit off guard. We’re never going to be completely balanced, 50-50 run and pass, but we’ve got to be a little better throwing the football.”
One of Dodd’s biggest concerns for Friday’s matchup has nothing to do with the Rebels. He has to find a way to keep the Rangers inspired to play hard for four quarters while not allowing their emotions to affect their focus the way it did two years ago at South in a 46-13 loss that saw the Rangers turn the ball over several times in the game’s first few minutes.
“We made a mistake a couple of years ago,” Dodd said. “The kids were ready to go and we got them wound up and it kind of backfired.”
Now Dodd uses a different approach to get the players fired up and focused, depending on the situation.
“That’s something I go through on a daily basis during this week with each team. Every group, the makeup is different so it’s really based on what the team needs,” he said. “If they seem a little flat or maybe they’re a little nervous or intimidated, we’ll uplift them and rah-rah them a little bit. If they seem pretty locked in and focused, we’ll dial it back a little bit if they’re already kind of wound up.”