It’s safe to say the Lakota East High School football team has never practiced for Lakota West with temperatures approaching 90 degrees — as the Thunderhawks did this week.
That’s what can happen when a game is moved to the middle of the season from what had been its traditional slot at the end of the regular season. That’s the state of he Lakota intra-district rivalry due to changes by the Greater Miami Conference in its scheduling format.
West coach Larry Cox admits that seeing his Firebirds meet the Thunderhawks at home on Sept. 29 — closer to Labor Day than Halloween — is different.
“At the same time, we understand why the league made changes,” Cox said. “We’ll still have them in the rotation for a while. While it was a special thing to have for a while as Game 10 every year, it is what it is.”
“It’s different,” East coach Rick Haynes said. “By the same token, it’s a different game in this community than most. Very few districts have two schools that play in the same conference.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. for the latest edition of the series West has dominated over the past few years, winning 10 of 11 before East edged the Firebirds 21-14 last season.
The Thunderhawks and Firebirds go into this season’s matchup on different tracks. East (4-1, 2-1) is coming off a 42-28 GMC win over Oak Hills after losing 48-14 at Fairfield. West (1-4, 1-2) lost 31-0 at Mason after a 31-24 win at Oak Hills.
The Thunderhawks, utilizing their traditional triple-option offense, rank second in the GMC with an average of 341.2 yards per game of total offense and lead with an average of 305 rushing yards. They are last with an average of 36.2 passing yards per game.
Junior Jack Dobrozsi, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior fullback, leads the GMC with 784 rushing yards, while 5-6, 132-pound senior running back Jeff Garcia ranks fifth with 447 rushing yards.
“Every week has its own inherent challenges,” Cox said. “Because of the schedule we play, every week is a big week. Obviously, this week has a little finer edge to it with it being the East game. What I look at each week is what I can do to improve our program and team. It’s not who we play. It’s how we play.
“I think they’ve got a fullback who understands what’s asked of him, a pretty intelligent quarterback who’s a good decision-maker, and a speed guy on the outside. With that offense, they make you stick to covering your bases and playing assignment football. If you have one broken assignment, they can turn it into a big play.”
Two of West’s losses have been by seven points. Running back David Afari, a 5-11, 180-pound sophomore, ranks third in the GMC with 489 rushing yards, while 6-2, 180-pound sophomore quarterback MyJaden Horton is fourth with 561 passing yards. Linebacker Xavier Peters, a 6-4, 225-pound senior, is second in the GMC with 3.5 sacks.
“I think our run game has improved,” Cox said. “That’s one thing about this league. No matter what happens, you always have to be able to run the ball. We’ve been nicked up a little bit, but we’re getting people back on the defensive side of the ball. Mason is a good team, but we were doing well for three quarters and were only down 14-0 late in the third quarter.
“Defensively, we’ve been somewhat consistent. Our wide receiver play has improved each week, as well as our kicking game. We had a hiccup with our special teams against Centerville (a 42-21 Week 2 loss), but we made some adjustments. Special teams will get you beat more than they will win you games. Nick Hjort, our punter, has done a good job.”
Hjort leads the GMC with 31 punts and is averaging 33.3 yards per punt.
Haynes warns that folks shouldn’t be fooled by West’s record.
“They’ve got really good players,” Haynes said. “Year in and year out, they always have good players. They play good defense. This year, they’re trying to find their rhythm offensively.”
Haynes is more concerned about the Thunderhawks’ penchant for giving away the ball. They are minus-three in turnovers halfway through the season.
“We’ve still got to work on not turning the ball over,” he said. “We turn it over way too much, We haven’t improved on that. It’s something we’re trying to find the answer to.”
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