Suburban Lakes League rivals Genoa and Eastwood are on a collision course.
The two SLL powers are scheduled to meet Oct. 2 at Genoa, with the winner having a leg up on the league championship. The Comets won last year's meeting at Eastwood, 24-0, and have won two out of three since Mike Vicars took over at Genoa in 2007.
That year, the Comets won the regular-season game 21-14, but Eastwood won the rematch, 14-7, in the state playoffs. Genoa leads the all-time series 28-23.
Coach Jerry Rutherford, in his 27th season at Eastwood, said next Friday's contest "will be a huge game. It's very exciting for everybody involved - the teams, the fans and the community."
Eastwood had beaten Genoa eight straight, by a 364-68 scoring margin, until Vicars took over at Genoa. Vicars said ending the Eagles' winning streak against Genoa in 2007 was a big step for his program.
"At the time, including today, it was a benchmark for us in the SLL," Vicars said. "How your program's doing, you're going to gauge it against the very best, and that's what they are."
Fifth-ranked Genoa (4-0, 1-0), which has won 23 straight regular-season games, visited non-league rival Northwood on Friday while Eastwood (4-0, 1-0) hosts winless Woodmore.
The Comets and Eagles haven't been tested much this season. Eastwood has outscored its first four opponents by a 190-41 margin, and Genoa has outscored the opposition 228-7, including three by shutout.
Vicars recalled last year's game against Eastwood as being "a lot of fun."
"There was a big crowd," he said. "We took advantage of a couple mistakes they made and it snowballed after halftime. It was 7-0 at halftime and it was easy for us to be patient with a 7-0 lead.
ield position was pretty big. We were able to establish field position during the game and we had them backed up. Our offense had some short field to work with and that made it a lot easier."
Rutherford said a couple of things stood out in that 24-point loss.
"They came out and got the ball on their first drive of the second half and went up 14-0 and took control of the game," he said. "They were pretty physical with us and we didn't handle that. They're going to hit you, and we have to handle that."
While both teams feature quick-strike offenses, they also have stout defenses.
Last week, in a 55-0 win over Woodmore, Genoa rushed for 427 yards and held the Wildcats to minus-4 yards on 36 rushing attempts. Senior quarterback Matt Bassitt has completed 25-of-40 passes for 560 yards and nine touchdowns, with no interceptions.
"They're going to run the ball," Rutherford said. "Bassitt has done a great job at quarterback, so they're able to throw. You have to play solid defense. They're going to come right at you. They're pretty physical. They're going to come after you and hit you, and you have to play physical with them. If you can't, you're not going to stop them."
Eastwood is averaging 323.5 yards a game on the ground and 9.6 yards per rushing attempt.
"We've had a lot of big plays, whether it be passes or runs, and it's been by a lot of different guys," Rutherford said. "We've had some big pass plays from different guys. We've been getting the ball around to different people."
Defensively, the Eagles are giving up 118 rushing yards per game and 2.8 yards per attempt. Seth Hoffman and Bob Hardison lead Eastwood with 43 and 40 tackles, respectively. Hoffman has a team-high four sacks, while Hardison leads the defense with five tackles for loss.
"We have pretty good speed on defense and our guys get to the football," Rutherford said. "We're improving as tacklers every week. We've had guys changing positions. Hoffman moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Matt Schling moved from end to inside linebacker and Matt Pickerel moved from the secondary to defensive end. They want to do what's best to help the team win."
The Eagles have played three quarterbacks this season, led by Clayton Ruch. The 6-4 senior has completed 10-of-21 passes for 143 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ruch had knee surgery on Sept. 11, but Rutherford said the quarterback is fine.
Kyle Dierker, a sophomore, and senior running back Nick Schmeltz have also lined up under center and are a combined 7-of-14 for 233 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.
"Nick was going to be our backup quarterback going into the season and he got mono and missed the first three games," Rutherford said. "Last week (a 45-6 win over Otsego) was his first game. It was the first time he ever played quarterback and he came in and threw a couple passes (4-for-6, 116 yards, one TD) and handled the ball pretty well."
Eastwood senior tight end Clay Rolf has seven catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Rolf (6-6, 251), who played tackle last season, has verbally committed to play at Bowling Green State University.
"He has great hands from playing basketball," Rutherford said. "He can run and he's a tremendous athlete. He's been running some counters for us and he's scored three TDs on runs. He's a big guy with speed and he's hard to bring down."
Vicars said Genoa's defense can't rely on merely shutting down the Eagles' running game. Eastwood is attempting less than nine passes a game, but the Comets can't afford to get lulled to sleep defending the run.
"I don't know if we won't get burned by the pass," Vicars said. "That's what happens when things break down. Most teams, their basic defense is designed to help defend the run. We'll do what we do and, hopefully, it's up to meeting the challenge of the strong running game Eastwood has."
Rutherford said the Eagles are healthy on both sides of the ball for the first time all season.
"We haven't put the same lineup on the field two weeks in a row," the coach said. "This Friday, we should be able to put our starters on the field. But, that has allowed us to get more guys ready to play than we ever have. A lot of guys have gotten experience, which will help us this year and in years to come."