Indians, Tigers on the warpath
WELLSVILLE – Two of the area’s supreme rushing attacks will collide when Southern and Wellsville kickoff at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Nicholson Stadium.
Wellsville (1-0) is led by a trio of running backs – seniors Marcus Moxley and Brendon Carr, and junior Zack Mellott – who first year coach Rich Wright uses to wear down opposing defenses.
“That’s what we do,” Wright said. “We take what the defense gives us. We try to spread the ball to different athletes.”
That strategy worked in the Tigers’ opening 31-6 win against Route 7 rival Toronto. Wellsville rushed for 308 yards on 31 carries with four different players getting substantial carries.
“We’re about equal across the board on our carries for our backs,” Wright said. “It was a pretty good gameplan, but we’d like to have a few more plays.”
Moxley was the leading rusher against Toronto, gaining 99 yards on eight carries. Mellott added 78 yards on six carries, while Carr had eight rushes for 49 yards. Even quarterback Jordan Sloan joined the rushing action, picking up 25 yards on six attempts.
“The idea of discipline has got to be unbelievable,” Southern coach Mike Skrinjar said of his team’s preparations. “We have to have that total team focus.”
Southern (1-0) has quite a rushing attack of their own, led by senior running back Mike McKenzie. In their 19-7 win against Waterloo on Saturday, the Indians rumbled for 233 rushing yards, with McKenzie accumulating 167 yards and three touchdowns. The big performance by McKenzie eliminated any doubt that he may struggle in the immediate return from an Achilles injury in May.
“McKenzie had a tremendous game last year against Wellsville,” Wright said. “They have a lot of weapons. They’re very big up front and they’re well coached. We’ll just have to go out and get after it.”
In 2012, Southern handed Wellsville a third straight defeat in the rivalry with a 40-9 rout. McKenzie finished with 308 yards on 31 carries, just under 10 yards per attempt. If the Tigers want any chance of ending their three-year skid against the Indians, they’ll have to fix any minor issues they had against Toronto in preparation of containing McKenzie.
“We made some mistakes last week,” Wright said. “We’re trying to correct those. We had some missed assignments and we turned the ball over twice. Ball security is important any week, but it gets a little more important in a rivalry.”
Southern, meanwhile, will be venturing on its first road trip of the season. While it’s only a short drive down Route 39 to Nicholson Stadium, Skrinjar has no intention of letting his team lose their focus.
“We’re going to an environment down there where they make it very difficult for us to play,” Skrinjar said. “They’ve got a lot of hype, just like it was out here on Saturday night.”
Despite the rushing assaults that both teams employ, the occasional pass can be expected. Southern’s Jared Shilot completed five of 11 attempts for 29 yards against Waterloo. Jordan Sloan went five for nine for 102 yards for the Tigers.
The Tigers have recent history working against them when it comes to the Indians. Wellsville hasn’t won a game in the series since 2009, before Skrinjar took over the helm at Southern. It’s one of the biggest games of the year for both teams, and neither coach seems prepared to lose.
“We’re getting better every week,” Wright said of his team. “You’re supposed to improve a lot between week one and week two, so hopefully we do that.”
“It’s a great rivalry,” Skrinjar said. “It’s like the Steelers-Ravens out there. That’s what I want. I’d rather play in games like this all year round. I want it to feel like the Super Bowl.”