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Knights, Huskies hoping to avoid 0-2 start

TORONTO — Two teams looking to bounce back from home defeats in Week 1 square off and rekindle an old rivalry Friday night, as Harrison Central travels to Toronto.

“It’s unfortunate after you lose the first week because you’ve worked all summer for that first week,” Toronto head coach Josh Franke said. “We’re fortunate enough to play at home in Week 2. Toronto loves its football. We always have a really good crowd. We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves in front of them and, hopefully, that’s what we do Friday.

“If you go back in time a little bit, Toronto versus Cadiz was a big game. A lot of people view Harrison Central as today’s Cadiz. I think there is excitement to renew that old rivalry.”

Though it is early, there is a lot on the line when the opening kick takes place at 7 p.m. at Clarke Hinkle Field, as an 0-2 start would be a tough hole to dig out of for two teams trying to get back to the playoffs in their respective divisions.

“I think it’s good for us, good for them, good for each community and good for the Valley any time two OVAC schools play,” Harrison Central coach Anthony Hayes said. “It’s huge (not to go 0-2). Now it’s about how the kids respond to the adversity (of being 0-1). We can’t get Week 1 back, we have to be ready to bounce back.

“I think some of our guys that went through it last year know what to expect. We’re turning the page and 100 percent focused on Toronto.”

The Red Knights, 25-16 losers to Wellsville in Week 1, will be back at full strength after having a few players sit out as a disciplinary measure. Franke, though, saw some good things from the young guys that stepped up in their place.

“That will definitely be helpful for us to be able to have some kids who have leadership and play some key positions for us back,” Franke said. “However, I don’t think the kids who played for them did too bad of a job. Any time you can get some kids Friday night experience, it’s not always a bad thing. It showed us we have some depth.”

One of the replacements was sophomore quarterback Aiden Mick, who threw for a score, 107 yards and completed more than half of his passes, but also was picked off four times.

“It’s very reassuring to know that my backup quarterback now has Friday-night experience should something happen and he have to go in,” Franke said. “You can’t replicate a Friday night in practice. For him to have a full game under his belt, I’m fully confident in Aiden Mick that if he has to go in, he’ll play well.”

Expect junior Caleb Leasure to be back leading the offense in Week 2.

For Hayes, the question mark about who will or won’t play on the Toronto side doesn’t change his team’s preparation too much.

“It doesn’t really (change anything),” Hayes said. “We’ve seen them at some scrimmages and such. I think a little bit changed with what they do offensively, but I think in the grand scheme of things they stick to who they are.

“We tell our kids let’s control what we can control. It doesn’t matter who’s in the ballgame or where we are playing. We have to do our jobs.”

For the Huskies, coming off a 49-13 home loss to Garaway, the focus is on what they do.

“We did some things that we didn’t do in our scrimmages,” Hayes said. “I think it was a combination of Garaway being a really good football team … and what we didn’t do. If we do some things better, I feel like it’s a lot closer. We did not give ourselves an opportunity.

“We just have to prepare and perform. We have to buckle down and do a better job of executing what we can control.”

Kobe Mitchell, Harrison’s junior standout quarterback, will be the focus of the Toronto defense. Despite him going just 3 of 7 for 24 yards and a score and rushing for 12 yards on six carries in Week 1, Franke knows exactly what the All-East District first-teamer is capable of.

“They run a Wing-T offense, which is different to prepare for because you don’t really see that a whole lot any more,” Franke said. “Kobe Mitchell is obviously an extremely athletic kid. He is the guy you have to have all eyes on. He can beat you on any given play. He’s a tremendous athlete, whether you are talking about baseball, basketball or football.”

As for what Hayes expects from Toronto, he plans to see a skilled team.

“We better have our ‘A’ game because Toronto is going to be ready,” Hayes said. “They have some good players and some good skill sets. Defensively, they get to the ball.”

There is another aspect to the matchup, as Hayes spent a brief time as the Red Knights head coach during the previous offseason before getting the job at his alma mater.

Don’t expect that to add any pressure on him, though.

“Maybe for (the media) it is, but for me it’s nothing,” Hayes said. “It’s just business as usual.”

On the Toronto side, Franke was going to be on Hayes staff before his departure allowed him to take the reigns as his alma mater. He, like Hayes, downplayed the angle.

“I don’t think (there’s anything extra),” Franke said. “Coach Hayes and I have maintained a positive relationship since he was here. He’s a really good guy and a good family man.”

(Grimm can be reached at agrimm@heraldstaronline.com)

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