In the first of three ‘Dog fights this season the Grove Ridgerunners travel to Wagoner tonight to engage the fellow 4A powerhouse Bulldogs.
Both teams enter the game undefeated and ranked in the top ten of Class 4A.
“Wagoner has been a good rivalry for us,” Ridgerunner Football Head Coach Dennis Millican said. “In the past (when we were in the same district) we used to compete with them for district titles.”
Grove enters tonight’s game on the heels of a 34-0 season-opening road win over McDonald County.
“We came out and played a solid game,” Millican said of the MCHS win. “It wasn’t a great game but it wasn’t a sloppy game, so I was happy about that.”
The head coach saw some traits from his team last Friday that should serve them well tonight.
“Defensively we played hard,” Millican said. “We kept them out of the end zone and made three interceptions.”
The Ridgerunner defense held MCHS to just 96 total yards of offense.
Conversely Millican and the Ridgerunner coaching staff have been working hard this week to correct some areas from last Friday.
“We had a few penalties and a turnover,” Millican said.
The Ridgerunners were tagged 12 times for 115 yards in Anderson last week.
“We need to eliminate the stupid penalties,” the coach explained.
For their part the Bulldogs step on their home field tonight after dismantling Miami last week 49-7 on the road.
Wagoner posted 365 offensive yards last week and held Miami to under 100.
Bulldog quarterback Prince McJunkis only threw nine passes last week but hit five of them for 88 yards and a score. The junior gained 50 ground yards on eight carries.
Senior wide receiver Paul Golden grabbed two receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown against Miami and compiled 66 rushing yards and another score on three carries.
“They’re not as big (as they have been in the past) but they are faster and quicker I believe,” Millican said about tonight’s opponent. “They’re well coached and they beat Miami pretty soundly,” he added. “They’re a good team.”
Last week the Grove offense showed a balanced attack, netting 234 yards on the ground and 141 through the air.
“We had some big plays,” Millican said of his offense from last week. “Our famous hitch and pitch down the right side line being one of them.”
The play, also known as a hook and lateral, was good for a 52 yard score after sophomore quarterback Adam Steffenson completed a pass to junior Tylor Leffel who then made a perfect pitch to running back Buck Maples.
The potential for something like that happening again tonight is quite high, according to the coach.
“Everybody that has followed us knows that we could throw that out there at any time, anywhere,” Millican said. “It’s part of our playbook. It’s not something we drew up in the dirt. It’s something we do quite frequently.”
The Ridgerunner special team play was a steady point last week, according to the coach. Both the kicking and punting units feature new legs for ’09.
Junior linebacker Bobby Harris, Grove’s leading tackler last season and against MCHS last week, is handling the punting duties.
Senior Walker Botts has been drafted in from the GHS soccer team to drive the place-kicking and kicking-off efforts.
“Walker did an excellent job kicking off and with the extra points,” Millican said of the kicker’s performance from last week.
The special teams unit also recovered a fumble last week that helped lead to a GHS touchdown.
The pre-season theme for the Ridgerunners was one of young and inexperienced players getting up to speed in a starting environment. But the season has begun now and the coach- along with his players- is ready to move past those kinds of definitions.
“We have a game under our belt and we need to keep having guys step up and get after it,” Millican said. “We have to get better and improve each week. We need to improve with each game and with each snap.”