MORRISTOWN - Harrison Central head coach Justin Kropka believes it when he hears that this Friday's 7 p.m. game is a must-win for his football team.
But, he also believes that same thing about Weeks 1, 2, 3 and so forth. The fact that his Huskies have lost two games in a row, slipped to eighth in the Division IV, Region 15 playoff rankings doesn't make this week any bigger than the rest.
"Even if we're sitting in 20th (in the region), it's a must-win game for me," Kropka said. "I sure hope it feels the same way for the kids. We start lifting the Monday after Thanksgiving and go four days a week, so we've got a lot invested for these 10 games."
The Huskies next challenge comes Friday when they make their final road trip of the regular season to take on Union Local.
"We go into each game hoping to win like all teams, but unfortunately, we've come up short the last couple of weeks," Kropka said. "We hope to come out on the better end of things this week. Every game is the Super Bowl to me. We're not preparing any harder this week than we have for any other game because the playoffs are involved. I'm preparing hard because I want to beat Union Local."
The Jets have experienced another season of growing pains. Coach Mark Cisar's squad is 1-7 on the season after dropping a 52-14 decision at Bellaire last Saturday.
"We only have five seniors, so our kids understand their job and it's to get better each week," Cisar said. "Our kids are still busting their butts, giving us everything they have, so it's been a joy coaching these kids even though our win-loss record isn't favorable."
The biggest challenge the Jets face this week is somehow finding a way to slow down the vaunted Harrison Central ground game, which has been chewing up yardage in chunks.
"We know they're going to line up and run right at us," Cisar said. "We've had trouble stopping them each of the last two years, so we have to find a way to slow them down."
Senior Maurtice Hython is the area's leading rusher. He's ran for 1,367 yards on 161 carries and scored 14 touchdowns.
"I definitely think a lot of coaches will be happy to see Maurtice graduate," Cisar joked. "He's a physical runner, but he's also got great speed."
If Hython isn't enough to worry about, the Huskies have also shown an ability to be balanced with a strong passing game thanks to senior quarterback Rashaen Mitchell. He's thrown for 959 yards and nine touchdowns.
Nate Olmstead and senior tight end Nick Pelegreen are his top targets. Olmstead has made 17 receptions for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Pelegreen has made 12 receptions for 214 yards and two scores.
The Jets, meanwhile, are triggered by improving quarterback Gavin Porter. He's thrown for 862 yards and four touchdowns. He's also ran for 298 yards and three scores.
Eric Dunfee is one of the Jets' top two-way players, but he was injured against Bellaire. He's ran for 216 yards and two scores. Kaleb McDiffit has developed into Porter's favorite target with 28 receptions for 391 yards and four scores. Travis James and Tater Blake are also solid options.
"I honestly like what I see out of Union Local," Kropka said. "They've got a lot of young kids playing, which translates into them playing hard. I really think this is one of Mark's best coaching jobs for how hard he's got these kids playing. Plus, they do the right things, but they're just a step behind, but that won't be like that forever. I respect teams and kids that don't bail when things aren't going there way."