WINTERSVILLE - After back-to-back 6-4 seasons Andrew Connor and the Indian Creek football team have finally turned the corner and done something no Redskins team has done since 1996.
Reach the playoffs.
"We've had some near misses," said Connor. "Two or three teams were on door step. It's a lot about if you work toward a goal and work hard you can be successful. We have not forgotten the support from district and fans.
"We are fortunate to have this opportunity and we want to do the best we can to represent Indian Creek Friday."
Now that they've reached the playoffs, the challenge becomes greater because waiting around the corner they fought so hard to turn is Division III power and and border rival Steubenville Big Red (10-0) Friday night at Harding Stadium.
"Obviously competition gets a lot stiffer in the postseason," said Connor. "To get in and have the opportunity to play a program like Steubenville is something we feel fortunate about. There isn't any more respected program than Steubenville.
"They do everything the right way."
The Redskins have had a playoff mentality since Week 5 as it sat at 2-2 and knew that another loss would eliminate it from postseason talks.
"We hope the kids play with their backs against the wall like they have been," said Connor. "We believe that playing like that has helped us with our character.
"We hope that will be a benefit to us."
An intriguing matchup Friday will be between Indian Creek's offense, scoring 32.1 points per game, and the Big Red defense, giving up 9.1 a game.
The Redskins, who have rushed for 2,003 yards, will be charged with finding holes for running backs Mark Ludewig (645 yards and nine touchdowns) and Logan Woods (502 yards and seven touchdowns) against a Steubenville defense that has given up just 844 yards on the ground.
The passing game, led by signal caller David Kemp, who has thrown for 1,341 yards and 17 scores, and Mike Furda, who has 34 catches for 726 yards and 11 scores will look to hit some of the big plays it has become accustomed to against a pass defense that has given up 1,011 yards on the year.
Connor knows making his offense's job more difficult is that Big Red possesses athletes all over the field so it makes it difficult to focus on or avoid any one area. Even with playmakers like safety Najee Murray and defensive end William Houst looking across the line.
"In a way it's almost because they have so many good football players that we don't want to be looking for certain players or sets," he said. "We don't want to get locked in certain things. Run the offense how we have been running it and not put undo pressure on where one person is."
In order to find the success it has experienced all season, Indian Creek must utilize all the weapons at its disposal and keep the Big Red defense guessing as to how it will attack.
"It's simple," Connor said. "When you play a program as well coached and disciplined as Big Red everyone has to bring their A game. You can't rely on one or two kids kids. Every kid has to play at a high level. You have to realize who you are playing and bring your best effort.
"Obviously its going to take a good mix. We have to establish good balance. We need to try to take some air out of the ball so they don't get a lot of chances.
"We want to mix things up and take what we feel we can do successfully just like every week."
When roles are reversed there will be another polar opposite matchup as the Indian Creek defense, giving up 15 points a game, will have to slow down a Big Red defense scoring 35.6 a clip.
The Redskin defense is led by playmakers Furda, Montel McClelland, and Blake Roar, but much like Big Red, have athletes ready to make plays at every position.
Big Red has a two-headed monster at running back with JoJo Pierro (890 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Leshawn Luke (460 yards and six touchdowns) and has gained 2,228 yards as a team.
The Indian Creek defense has been stout against the run all year though, giving up 1,000 yards on the season.
Again, much like Indian Creek, Big Red has a senior quarterback who is very efficient. Marcus Prather has played well, throwing for 1342 yards and 13 scores. His top two targets have been Murray (17 catches, 280 yards, and four scores) and Matt Petrella (16 catches, 269 yards, and four scores).
Getting pressure on Prather, and doing it without continually sending the house, is going to be a key for Connor's defense.
"Obviously we don't want any team to get in a rhythm," he said. "We don't want him to sit back there and pick us apart. We want to be able to get pressure with our front four so we're not forced to blitz.
"We want to be able to mix things up and our front four will be instrumental to us being able to do that."
For many young players, their first foray into the postseason can be an overwhelming experience. A possible benefit to the Redskins is that their seniors have played in Harding Stadium, in front of a packed house, against Big Red when they were sophomores. An electric atmosphere that is hard to simulate and is not seen in many high school stadiums.
Connor believes while that may help initially, it will only take his team so far.
"It's one of those things that having been in that environment helps, but once the smoke clears we have to play football," he said. "We have to be well-prepared.
"We have to know what we are doing assignment-wise and worry about the game itself."