Hamilton and Lakota West are two prep football teams that share many similarities going into their regular-season finale on Friday.
Both are 2-7 overall and 2-5 in the Greater Miami Conference heading into the 7 p.m. matchup at West. Both have relied heavily on young players this season. Both are hoping to set a positive offseason tone with a win.
Under the GMC’s revised scheduling format, with each team now playing eight conference games instead of seven, both teams also have a shot at finishing with one more conference win than last season.
“Winning obviously ends the season better than it went,” Hamilton coach Chad Murphy said. “You can go into the postseason on a positive note.”
“Both of us are looking for that elusive win,” Firebirds coach Larry Cox said. “It’s funny. I didn’t realize it until I was looking at the roster the other day … we’re only carrying 14 seniors. That’s a pretty small number. We have a lot of young kids playing and a lot of kids coming back, but you still want to teach the base values of what the program stands for. There are things as coaches and players that we can improve on.”
Murphy pointed out that his Big Blue have been playing five or six underclassmen on both sides of the ball.
“We’ve been relatively young all season,” he said.
Both teams have relied on sophomores at quarterback. The Firebirds’ MyJalen Horton ranks fifth in the GMC with 872 passing yards and has thrown for five touchdowns with just two interceptions. The Big Blue’s Khaliyal Sowell has thrown for 602 yards and three touchdowns with seven picks.
Another similarity the teams share is leaning on their running games. West sophomore David Afari leads the GMC with 1,097 rushing yards. Hamilton senior Maleek Jarrett is fourth with 820 yards.
“Their quarterback has an aggressive attitude about him,” Cox said. “He wants the ball and does a good job of distributing it. Jarrett is a physical runner. He’s not just going to go down. You’ve got to tackle him. Their receivers are bigger. They’ve got some length to them.”
Murphy respects Afari, but West poses threats in other areas, the coach said.
“They have a very talented defensive line,” Murphy said. “They have three kids up front with tons of (scholarship) offers.”
The Firebirds have dominated the series recently, winning four straight and seven of the last nine games, but Cox is hoping for more than just a win on Friday.
“I think the biggest thing you talk about is continuing to compete — compete hard and finish what you start,” he said. “There are always going to be goals to look for. People are always going to look at the won-loss records and say this or that, but if in the end you come out and compete hard and finish what you start, no matter what, then your life lessons will be successful. It doesn’t mean the season has to be a failure. It’s what you’re teaching the young men about how to handle losing and how to handle adversity.
“Last week, a lot of things were going through my mind. The weather got a little colder, and I was thinking, ‘It finally feels like football.’ I get a little melancholy. The kids are understanding the message and what we’re trying to pass on, and you hate to see it end. People don’t realize how much time we put into this. The (Ohio High School Athletic Association) mandates that we take a month off, so we invest 11 months out of our lives to this, but you can’t get too melancholy. You’ve got to practice what you preach — compete and finish.
“The philosophy doesn’t change.”