When the Buckeye Valley and Delaware Hayes football teams put their rivalry on hold, quite a few people were less than thrilled … to put it mildly.
Since it’s been back, though, the intensity of the games — and the atmosphere created by the fans — made it feel like the series never pushed the pause button.
It’s the game the players look forward to all offseason. It’s not just the opener … it’s everything.
At this point, though, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic this country just can’t seem to shake, simply playing football — any football, against anyone — is what this fall is all about.
To improve the odds of making that happen, the Ohio High School Athletic Association pulled some strings, slashing the number of regular season games to six and allowing every team into the playoffs.
It’s a plan Buckeye Valley coach Matt Stephens is all for … even if it means his Barons won’t square off against the Pacers in Week 1.
“If it allowed us to get the go ahead for football, then I’m thankful for it,” Stephens said of the schedule shift. “I know our players wanted to play Hayes Week 1, but we may possibly see them Week 10 … I’ll be excited if we can make it to Week 10.”
The Barons won just once last fall — a 45-29 thumping of Liberty Union in the second to last game of the season — but it was an important win. It provided a peek at a potential blueprint for future success as running back Andre Ash ran for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns.
Ash is back in the fold this year and, well, Stephens hopes last year’s late-season success can carry over into this one.
“Andre is big (220 pounds) and strong (squats 545 pounds),” Stephens said. “I’m hoping he’ll be the type of back that, as the game goes on, he gets stronger and is able to wear down defenses.”
Ash, who is a two-year starter, will have plenty of experienced linemen blocking for him as well. Mason Hatcher, Nathan Peak, Zane Skinner, Fletcher Holquist and Keegan Allan are all back.
He won’t have to shoulder all of the load, either. Stephens said Will Weinberg, Landon Dewitt, Zane Lucas and Jake Smothers have all looked good in practice and can provide different looks in the backfield.
Anthony Hughes, a three-year starter at defensive back, will likely get the nod at quarterback. Stephens said Alex Contreras isn’t far behind, but Hughes, who saw some time at QB each of the past two seasons, has improved quite a bit over the course of the offseason.
“Anthony has improved accuracy and arm strength and has become better with pre- and post-snap reads,” the coach said.
Dalton Dodds returns as one of the team’s top targets from the slot while Contreras will play receiver if he doesn’t win the QB gig. Weinberg, who can line up as a tight end while not in the backfield, is also expected to make plays in the passing game.
Defensively, Stephens said he likes the potential of his linebackers — Holquist, Weinberg, Lucas and Carson Vaulx — if they can stay on the field. Vaulx and Lucas are younger guys, both juniors, but saw a ton of action last season. Vaulx is BV’s top returning tackler and Lucas started seven games as a sophomore.
Weinberg returns after missing eight games last season. Holquist, meanwhile, missed all of 2019 with an injury.
“I feel that Will coming back from injury has been a boost to our defense at the middle backer,” Stephens said. “He and our top returning tackler from last year, Carson, make us very solid up the middle.”
Ash and Jake Henwood will also see time at linebacker, Stephens said.
Hunter Clements, Hatcher and Dewitt are back up front and Hughes, Smothers and Mitchell Melfe are back in the secondary.
Buckeye Valley opens the 2020 season on the road, slated to take on Harvest Prep Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
The Barons play at home for the first time in Week 2 against Bishop Ready before traveling to Bexley in Week 3. They host Whitehall-Yearling and Grandview Heights in back-to-back weeks after that before closing out the regular season at Liberty Union on Oct. 2.