Prep football: Big plays power Edgewood to 5-0 with rival Ross looming

Edgewood’s Gavin Childers (66) and Caden Nance (61) put Harrison quarterback Connor Kinnett in a tough spot during last Friday night’s game at Harrison. Edgewood won 42-35 to remain unbeaten. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Edgewood’s Gavin Childers (66) and Caden Nance (61) put Harrison quarterback Connor Kinnett in a tough spot during last Friday night’s game at Harrison. Edgewood won 42-35 to remain unbeaten. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The offensive fireworks display needed, of course, a big defensive play as a finale. Justin Hiltbrand was the guy for the job.

The Edgewood High School senior intercepted Harrison’s Connor Kinnett with 1:17 remaining last Friday night, preserving a 42-35 football victory for the Cougars and keeping them undefeated.

“That’s a great feeling,” Hiltbrand said. “There’s not one that can match it.”

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Edgewood and Little Miami are tied for first place in the Southwest Ohio Conference with identical records (5-0 overall, 2-0 in the SWOC). The Cougars are striving for their third straight championship, while the Panthers have yet to win one.

What Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons really liked about the road conquest of Harrison was his team’s resolve.

“It was just the effort and the fight of our young men,” Clemmons said. “It was one of those games where you had to believe in what we were doing and be patient.

“We knew going in that Harrison had a very good quarterback and receivers. Film is sometimes hard to judge when it comes to kids’ speed. We thought they were fast, and once we got there, their speed was a little bit faster than what we thought it was. But the young men made some adjustments and held the course.

“When you get in a fight like that, you always see the character of your young players and your seniors and how they led. The seniors did a really good job during that game of actually communicating and motivating each other. That’s what you want to see as a coach.”

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Edgewood High School senior outside linebacker Justin Hiltbrand talks about the Cougars?€™ 5-0 start and their upcoming trip to Ross on Friday.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

The Cougars’ offense has been good enough to produce 412.6 yards and 40.8 points per game. It’s been consistent enough that EHS punter Evan Brown hasn’t been forced to kick a ball since Week 3.

Brown (6-4, 220) and Hiltbrand (6-4, 215) are senior outside linebackers and arguably the two most difficult Edgewood defenders to deal with. Hiltbrand said the defense starts with senior middle linebacker Tanner Polisini.

“Without him, it wouldn’t be possible,” Hiltbrand said. “Everybody does their job and sets up everybody else. Once you do your job, everybody just feeds off one another. You have a high motor and just play as a team.”

Clemmons had this to say about his OLBs: “They’re long. They can bait teams into thinking there’s something there, but they do a good job of covering a lot of space.”

The defensive focus is taking a far different path this week. Edgewood will visit Ross (2-3, 0-2) on Friday night, and the Rams operate out of the triple-option offense and rarely put the ball in the air.

“They’re getting better each week, so you have to prepare for them,” Hiltbrand said of Ross, which has lost its last three matchups against the Cougars by a combined 128-16 total. “We’re playing good, but we’re not playing good enough yet. We’ve still got to get to that next level.”

The Ross triple option has shown signs of becoming a dominant mode of ball movement, though Rams coach Kenyon Commins said it’s not close to where it needs to be.

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Ross running back Dylan Caldwell carries the ball while being defended by Badin’s Luke Tabler during their season opener Aug. 24 at Robinson Field in Ross Township. Badin won 41-20. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Ross running back Dylan Caldwell carries the ball while being defended by Badin’s Luke Tabler during their season opener Aug. 24 at Robinson Field in Ross Township. Badin won 41-20. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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Ross running back Dylan Caldwell carries the ball while being defended by Badin’s Luke Tabler during their season opener Aug. 24 at Robinson Field in Ross Township. Badin won 41-20. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Not helping the situation was the loss of sophomore quarterback C.J. Boze to an ankle injury early in last week’s 28-14 loss to Mount Healthy. Freshman Brayden Fraasman played the rest of the game and might get the start against Edgewood — Commins said he’s not sure if Boze will be ready to go.

“Brayden’s a pretty special athlete,” Commins said. “After one series against Mount Healthy, he didn’t bat an eye. Anybody who was there could tell you that. We’re very lucky to have two good option quarterbacks in our system.”

Ross has the ability to control the tempo and the clock when the triple option is running smoothly, but the Rams are giving up too many explosive plays.

Case in point: Ross had the ball for 36 minutes and ran for more than 300 yards against Harrison in Week 4, yet lost 49-14.

“I don’t think we have that big-play element like Edgewood does,” Commins said. “Our plan is to slow the game down. We’re going to play really good special teams. We’re going to make you make mistakes, and we’re going to play as hard as we can on defense.”

He said the Rams need to have much better ball security — they lost six fumbles against Mount Healthy. Ross is also still playing without defensive back Ryan Price because of an ankle injury.

Clemmons said the Cougars are not taking Ross lightly.

“You can definitely see a different kind of swagger to their team,” he said. “They’re big up front on both sides, and they’ve got some speed. They’re not just some pushover team.”

Edgewood’s Wing-T offense contains the SWOC’s top two rushers, Wade Phillips (81 carries, 788 yards, 8 TDs) and Elijah Williams (76 carries, 623 yards, 9 TDs).

“What I see once again is a Scott Clemmons-coached football team. It’s a disciplined, well-oiled team,” Commins said. “My coaches have been talking about watching them and how well they do the little things. One of the best compliments I can give to a coach is saying that each one of their players knows exactly what they’re going to do and they do it extremely well.

“There’s a reason why Edgewood is where it is … Coach Clemmons has a great staff and the kids understand their system. I’ve idolized what they’ve done for a long time from a community perspective as well as a football program. We’ve got our hands full across the board. They’re pretty daggone good.”

Friday’s game

What: Edgewood (5-0, 2-0 SWOC) at Ross (2-3, 0-2 SWOC), 7 p.m.

Where: Robinson Field, 3601 Hamilton-Cleves Road, Ross Township

Series: Edgewood leads 24-13 and has won the last three meetings, including 30-7 in 2017

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