If memories of missed opportunities — short- and long-term — aren’t uppermost in the minds of Hamilton High School’s football players this week as they prepare to play at Lakota East, they’re pretty close.
The Big Blue believe they left a possible win on the field last Friday in a 24-13 Greater Miami Conference loss to Sycamore.
From ill-timed penalties to coming up just short on fourth down to stepping out of bounds while returning a punt for a touchdown to allowing the Aviators a first down on a fake punt, Hamilton believes it let a win get away.
“We had opportunity after opportunity to do some things,” coach Chad Murphy said. “The fake punt they converted against us was huge. We had an overturned call in the first half where we stripped the ball and recovered the ball, but that call was overturned and they gave the ball back to Sycamore. We felt like we left a lot on the field.”
That wasn’t Murphy’s only lament. Preparing for the Thunderhawks, who are 5-2 overall and 3-2 in the GMC after a 38-13 loss at Colerain last Friday, dredged up memories of last season’s bitter loss to East at Hamilton’s Virgil Schwarm Stadium.
The Big Blue quickly fell behind 21-0 and trailed 24-7 at halftime before storming back to take a 28-24 lead with 1:21 left in the game on Eric Jackson’s 19-yard touchdown run and Trace Sword’s conversion kick. Undeterred, East came back to score the game-winning TD on Dylan Fry’s 20-yard pass to Xavier Warren and Tyler VanFossen’s point-after kick with 25 seconds left in the game.
“We feel like we’ve still got a lot of things in us from last year,” Murphy said. “We ended up losing that game somehow. We’ve still got that taste in our mouth.”
The Thunderhawks go into Friday’s game ranked seventh in the Division I, Region 4 Harbin computer ratings and knowing that a win would help keep alive their hopes of being one of the eight teams that qualify for postseason play, especially with a game at fifth-rated Sycamore looming next Friday.
Behind its triple-option attack, East leads the GMC with an average of 281.4 rushing yards per game. Junior running back Jack Dobrozsi, the GMC’s leading rusher, is 26 yards short of 1,000 for the season, even after being limited to a season-low 52 yards by Colerain.
The Thunderhawks, who have won six straight and eight of the last 10 against Hamilton, shook up their offense against the Cardinals, passing effectively enough in the first half to take a 13-10 halftime lead. Fry connected with junior Evan Yablonsky on a 67-yard post pattern for the go-ahead touchdown late in the first half.
“We just didn’t put four quarters together,” East coach Rick Haynes said. “Hopefully, we’ll do that on Friday.”
Despite knowing the Thunderhawks set a season high with 152 passing yards against the Cardinals, Murphy still had the Big Blue focusing on East’s running game. He and his assistants started spending time during summer practice this year working on stopping option attacks, knowing HHS would face the triple-option at least three times this season.
“Defending the option is all about staying disciplined and keeping your pad level,” he said. “We started working a little bit on the option during camp so it wouldn’t be as big of a surprise during the season. We’re hoping the third time is the charm.”
Murphy also hopes Hamilton can control East’s offense by keeping it off the field with Big Blue’s rushing attack, which ranks fourth in the GMC with an average of 220.6 yards per game. Senior running back Maleek Jarrett ranks second behind Dobrozsi among GMC rushers with 748 yards.
“He’s been a good running back since I’ve known him,” Murphy said of Jarrett. “He’s been good the whole way up. Last year, we needed him a little bit more on the defensive side of the ball, but we knew from Day 1 going into this year that he was going to be a good back.
“That’s what we’ve done a lot this year — relied heavily on the run — but we really believe the key is the more balanced you can become, the tougher you are to defend.”
Haynes believes the Big Blue has the tools to accomplish that in Jarrett and sophomore quarterback Khaliyal Sowell.
“Their quarterback and running back both are very talented,” Haynes said. “They’re very good up front. They like to hold on to the ball and wear you down. We’ve got to get off the field.”