The Inter-Tri County League upper tier isn't wasting any time in dishing out some juicy matchups to open league play.
Among the tasty menu items slated for Friday are defending champion Crestview at Springfield, upstart South Range hosting Columbiana, rival battle Lisbon at United and Mineral Ridge at East Palestine.
For Crestview, the non-league slate was all about testing the team to see where they stand. After an opening loss to now unbeaten Div. IV St. Clairsville, the Rebels have rebounded with victories over Beaver Local and Tuscarawas Valley.
"Competitively I really hope that (non-league schedule) has prepped us for the league," Cusick said.
Cusick said the Rebels will have to do a better job with in-game discipline regarding penalties. The coach said the team is being a little over-aggressive in situations and that has hurt a bit.
Springfield (2-1) had a chance to enter league play unbeaten, but had an unepxected setback against Lowellville on Friday.
"Defensively there was a couple times where we missed some tackles and guys didn't meet their responsibilities," Springfield coach Sean Guerriero said. "On offense we had four turnovers. We're not a team that's going to be able to overcome four turnovers. Penalties also killed us. I have to give credit to Lowellville too. They didn't make mistakes and killed us on time of possession."
Springfield will get no breather from the Rebels though.
"Crestview looks very good on video," Guerriero said. "Their defense flies to the ball and their offense hits you with the (Carter) Hill kid. They don't make a lot of mistakes either. We have to play good, sound defense and not turn the ball over on offense."
Even though his Clippers were a 20-0 winner over South Range in the regular season finale last year, Columbiana coach Bob Spaite doesn't rank that victory too high.
"I talked to (South Range coach) Dan Yeagley at the end of the game last year and I told him I don't count that," Spaite said. "To me, I haven't beat him yet. By week 10 of last year that just wasn't a South Range team."
The Raiders limped to a 2-8 record last season, but have seemingly bounced back this season as they scored wins over parochial powers Warren JFK and Garfield Heights Trinity in the non-league part of the schedule.
"They're back on form," Spaite said.
South Range coach Dan Yeagley said he's happy with the way his team has been playing together over the course of the last three games, but he realizes this is a very different league this season due to the challenging games teams have taken on in the non-league portion of the schedule.
"(Schedule upgrading) needed to be done," Yeagley said. "Our league is so loaded that you need to be ready to play every week. We needed somebody that simulated Columbiana's speed and a team that simulated Crestview's power. The only place to do that was to go to a Campbell or a Warren JFK. I think other teams did that as well."
Columbiana (2-1) completed its non-league schedule with a win over what Bob Spaite called a really banged up Newton Falls team last week. This week his Clippers are the ones that are banged up and it's not just your typical week four injuries.
"We're more than a little nicked up," Spaite said.
Yeagley noticed this as well.
"I think Bob left the camera on a little too long," Yeagley said. "We saw a lot of their guys getting helped off the field on the tape."
Lisbon at United
The Lisbon-United rivalry got a bit of a jolt in the arm with the Blue Devils ending the 29-game losing streak last week. Now the Eagles (2-1) know they'll be in for a game as they try to extend their streak to seven over the Blue Devils.
"The rivalry goes way back," United coach Mike Ward said. "With circumstances as they are, Lisbon coming off a big win, it makes for a great matchup this week. I think our players understand this is a rivalry. They've heard about it their entire careers. They understand the confidence that Lisbon has now coming into the game. We understand the importance of playing well against not only Lisbon, but in the first league game too."
United will have offensive and defensive lineman D.J. Harsh back for the game. He's been out with an ankle infection.
Mineral Ridge at East Palestine
As far as Mineral Ridge is concerned everyone seems to be a little bit surprised at where they stand. Spaite said he considered them a darkhorse favorite in the hunt for the league and Cusick said he expected them to still be a viable opponent in the future despite the rough start.
The Rams are 1-2, but got back on track nicely against lower tier favorite McDonald last week. They still are dealing with some injuries, but should be a significant challenge for East Palestine who gave up what is believed to be a state-record nine touchdown passes against Canton South's Jared May in a 62-14 loss on Friday.
Southern Local is sitting pretty with a sparkling 3-0 record to being the season, but the Indians' main tests are still down the road a bit.
This week the Indians travel to Jackson-Milton to open league play. The Bluejays enter the contest winless being outscored 95-7 along the way. This shouldn't be an issue for Southern.
Leetonia (1-2) is taking a positive approach to its game with McDonald on Friday. Especially following a disappointing 21-20 loss to Mathews last week.
"We're both coming into the game 1-2, but that doesn't matter," Leetonia coach Matt Altomare said. "It's a clean slate now. Everybody is 0-0."
Altomare said he wasn't that surprised by anything that has happened in the league at this point, but he said it was refreshing to see some different teams in winning positions early.
"It's nice to see we have a couple teams still undefeated in our lower tier (Southern and Western Reserve)," Altomare said. "It's good to see Sebring at 2-1 and Lowellville at 2-1. It helps all of us that these teams have won some games."