With four-time defending champion South returning 18 starters, there is little, if any, room for error in terms of the 2012 Premier Athletic Conference title chase.
Such is the reality Lakeside and Riverside face Friday night when they square off in their league opener at Riverside Stadium.
And in pretty much an elimination game in terms of championship contention, both the Dragons (1-2) and the Beavers (2-1) are coming off victories, Lakeside besting visiting Edgewood, 20-14, and Riverside beating archrival Harvey for the 20th-straight time, 42-0.
Second-year Lakeside coach Ryan David is impressed by what he sees in the Beavers.
“They pass the ball a lot more than they did last year,” he said. “They are going to play us like Perry — they are going to onside kick us, they are going to fake punt us and John Watson and their punt teams are going to try and block punts.
“Again, I have prepared our players for this game since July, as I did with Perry, and it’s up to our players to execute.”
David’s counterpart, third-year Riverside coach Dave Bors, said the fact the Dragons earned their first win of the season a week ago will pay immediate dividends.
“Confidence and momentum play such a big part of high school football... they look like a team that now expects to win,” he said. “Coach David is doing a real nice job with that program. They are pretty big, physical and talented. They have played all three of their opponents well early in their games. They just seemed to need to find a way to close games out.
“This past week, they figured it out. With a win under their belt, they are definitely dangerous.”
David’s squad was led last week by Chase Knight. The senior tailback rushed for 230 yards on 26 carries and scored three times, including a school-record 97-yard dash.
“Chase had a great game and the biggest reason why was because he finally realized that he had to run north and south and this is what will give him big games,” he said. “It was a great win for our kids. They never gave up, they persevered and didn’t play scared.”
Nor did Riverside in its annual conquest of crosstown rival Harvey, featuring an attack that used both the run and the pass and a defense that threw a shutout.
“It definitely seemed more balanced. Our defense and special teams played much better and our offense continues to do a nice job,” Bors said. “ The boys took care of business on the field, but it was still far from a well-played game on our end.
“We had some penalties, missed assignments and mental errors that we have to fix or we’ll get exposed big-time.”
David agrees the 2012 Riverside squad is much more diversified than the punch-you-in-the-mouth 2011 version, a team that beat the Dragons, 44-20, last fall at Lakeside Stadium to give the Beavers a 4-3 lead in the all-time series.
“John Watson is a great slot receiver and he’s great after the catch,” he said. “Quarterback Maxx Brubaker has a big arm and makes excellent decisions.
“Free safety Adam Horvat is a good tackler who breaks on the ball well and running back Marcus Jones runs hard.”
Some Dragons have caught Bors’ eye.
“Their lines are big and physical,” he said. “Some of the skill people really impress are Chase Knight, Chuck Morgan and Nick Meola. We need to be aware of where they are at — at all times.
“Coach David does a nice job with his schemes in order to move those guys around to get them the ball.”
David said while the win against Edgewood was gratifying, it’s exactly that — one win.
“It means a lot to the staff and community, but I will not be satisfied until we are Lake and Geauga good, not just Ashtabula good,” he said. “To beat a team as good as Riverside, we must play great special teams, cannot give up a fake punt or a blocked punt, must run the ball and must tackle well.”
Even Bors is more than a bit surprised Riverside has been able to beat a solid program such as Harvey for two-straight decades.
“I find it pretty amazing. It’s a strong rivalry that is so important to so many people,” he said. “I’m proud of our boys for representing well and wanting to win this game for all of the past generations that have been part of it.
“To beat a quality team like Lakeside, we must stop the run, establish the run game ourselves and win the turnover battle.”
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