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Redskins finally host first playoff game Saturday

RUNNING THROUGH — Indian Creek’s Trevor Fante rushes by Buckeye Local’s Brian Palmer on Sept. 20. -Joe Catullo

WINTERSVILLE — Indian Creek has checked a lot of boxes and accomplished a lot of goals this season. The biggest on the list, though, is still in front of it — win a playoff game.

It has the chance to be the first Indian Creek team to do that Saturday night, as the No. 3 seed Redskins host a playoff game for the first time against No. 6 seed Hubbard in the opening round of the Division IV, Region 13 playoffs.

“There have been a lot of accomplishments,” veteran Indian Creek head coach Andrew Connor said. “We finished seventh in the state poll, which is our highest one. We were able to win the OVAC in back-to-back years. We got a home playoff game, tied the school record for wins with nine, winning the Buckeye 8 again — those were all goals. The big goal that we had circled, though, that we talked about after the loss to Hubbard last year, was to get back and get a win — and we have put ourselves in that position. That is the focal point of our football program, to follow through on that goal and get our first playoff win.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to be in the playoffs six out of the last eight years. I think that’s a big reason why we are where we’re at. For us, now we want to take that step forward. We shouldn’t just be happy to make Week 11. I think the kids see that, and they want to make their mark on our program to be the ones to win that first playoff game. It’s something they set as a goal, and now the goal is in front of us.”

Hubbard defeated Indian Creek in the opening round of last season’s playoffs, 51-21. The big difference being that game was played on the Eagles’ home turf. This time, it’s in the friendly confines of Kettlewell Memorial Stadium.

“You can always go back and look at the things you did,” Connor said. “They have guys returning like we have guys returning. Hubbard has been so successful for so many years. They probably do a lot of the same stuff they do. We don’t really change a lot of the stuff we do, either. I think you can probably get a little bit of a feel from last year’s game. You have to go back and see what kids have developed. You can look at names and rosters. It’s always something good to fall back on. It’s very rare that you play a team in the playoffs and come right back and play them again the next year.

“There were some plays that we could have made that we didn’t. We had the game closer than the final score ended up being. I think you always want to do better, especially when you didn’t win the game the year before. I’m not saying it’s the only motivating factor that we have, but you’d like to come back, show growth and end up beating that team that beat you the year before. It’s something in the back of our heads for sure.”

The Eagles, who went 6-4 and lost three of their final four games, have faced some tough competition down the stretch. Connor expects Hubbard, which averages 19.5 points per game, to run the ball.

“They like to run the football, there’s no question about that,” Connor said. “It’s their bread and butter, and they run it well. They have a big offensive line and are a very physical football team. They play a very good schedule. If you look at who they’ve played, especially in the last couple of weeks — South Range, Poland, Niles — they are used to big games. They have been tested.”

Likewise, he feels his Redskins have been tested, too.

“We played at St. C and against Indian Valley early in the season. Those games pushed us to our limits,” he said. “As we have gone down the stretch here, Martins Ferry was surging at the time we played them, and they are a very good football team with a lot of tradition. We felt like Harrison Central was surging when we played and was a very good football team. We feel like we have been tested, and we had to play some of our best football to get here. We feel like we have gotten better week by week.”

The Redskins have two things going that a team needs to be successful this time of the year — a ground game and defense. Creek finished as the fifth-ranked offense in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area, racking up 307.6 yards and 30.7 points per game.

Of those yards, an average of 248.4 of them came on the ground. Trevor Fante, the standout senior tailback, finished as the No. 2 rusher in the area with 1,295 yards and 19 scores, while quarterback Sam Mazar added 405 yards and eight rushing touchdowns.

On defense, the Redskins finished second in the area, allowing just 188.6 yards and 7.3 points. No team in the area allowed fewer points. By comparison, the Hubbard defense allowed an average of 16.1 points per game, which would have ranked fourth in the area.

“I think the two things that make me happiest as a head football coach is we’re playing sound defense — we’re able to flip the field a lot, we’re able to push other teams behind the chains a lot — and you obviously want to be able to run the football this time of year, and our offensive line has really found itself in the last three or four games,” Connor said. “We’ve had some big totals running the ball. It’s been capped off by Trevor running the football.

“Those are the two big things I feel like you want to have at playoff time — being able to run the ball and control the clock offensively and have a sound, stout defense, and those two things are trending in the right direction for us.”

When the teams take the field Saturday night, and even in the time leading up to the game, Connor expects an incredible atmosphere.

“All day Saturday, people will be getting ready for the game and tailgating and everything else,” he said. “It is just going to make it special for the kids. A lot of people are coming. I’m sure Hubbard is going to bring a big crowd. It’s going to be a battle of two bands that are both going to be in excess of 170 kids, so the place is going to be loud. You want to enjoy the moment but not get caught up in the moment. That’s a very fine line. You want to enjoy the atmosphere and the fans, but you don’t want that moment to get too big. For us, we need to get off to a fast start and protect the football. I know those are cliche, but we don’t want to hurt ourselves with penalties or turnovers. We need to be sound in the way we play.

“This senior class has been in the playoffs three of four years. I think they remember their freshman year, and they remember last year. It’s important.”

He also feels the team taking the field Saturday night is representing a lot more than just itself.

“The playoffs started in 1972. We merged two very good football programs in Mingo and Wintersville, and we’ve had six playoff appearances as a high school. Now, we finally get a home game,” he said. “We’re not just doing this for us. We’re doing it for everyone that has wore the red and gold prior to this year, and the people that wore the school colors of Mingo and Wintersville. It’s special for us to represent all those teams.”

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

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