Huskies, Red Knights clash tonight
Harrison Central, off to a 1-0 start for the first time under third-year head coach Anthony Hayes, utilized big plays and a strong defensive effort to down Catholic Central, 41-7, in its opener.
Toronto, meanwhile, is 0-1 after falling at home to rival Edison, 31-19, a year after the Red Knights made the playoffs and the Wildcats did not secure a victory.
“It was very important for us to get off to that start. We did, and we’re very happy,” Hayes said. “We celebrate all of our wins because every win is hard. We celebrated that win, but we turned the page pretty quick. When the sun came up on Saturday, we already were looking forward to Toronto.”
The kickoff is set for 7 p.m. tonight on the artificial surface at Wagner Field.
“I don’t think there was a single kid that expected to lose Friday night,” Toronto head coach Josh Franke said. “Those ones are the ones that are hard to bounce back.”
Many know the impact senior quarterback Kobe Mitchell has for the Huskies. On Friday, he ran for a 25-yard touchdown and threw for 163 yards with two more scores. Those stats are not surprising.
The stat line that opened many eyes came from junior running back James Brooks. He rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries, while also returning a kick 81 yards to the end zone. Hayes was pleased to see somebody compliment Mitchell and keep the defense honest.
“It was really nice, and it was good for James,” Hayes said. “He started coming on in the last four games last year as a sophomore. It was the first time he saw any varsity experience whatsoever. He was kind of learning the game on the fly for the first five or six games. He really took off in the last four games. He played much faster. We knew what he was capable of; it was just a matter of him settling in.
“We have plenty of athletic guys to give the ball to. But, I’ll be completely honest, I was really, really happy with our line up front. Our line did a great job Friday, and we only start one senior on the line. We’re pretty excited about those guys.”
The Red Knights may have to pick their poison as far as stopping the Huskies’ offense. For now, they are keeping their focus on the quarterback.
“Kobe is a dynamic athlete, so he’s the guy first and foremost that’s getting our attention,” Franke said. “The tailback is good, but we were able to hold him in check last year. You have to figure out who the best guy is on their offense and try to take that away from them. In our perspective, that’s Kobe Mitchell.”
The Huskies’ defense also was just as impressive, holding the Crusaders to less than 100 yards rushing and just 70 through the air. Their main focus this week is on Toronto’s run game.
“Coach Franke obviously knows his team more than I do, but I think that they go by the run,” Hayes said. “I think that’s what they love to do. They do, though, have very capable targets. They have a big, strong tight end (Shane Keenan) who’s also very athletic and large. They also have a quarterback (Caleb Leasure) who has a few games under his belt and started a playoff game. They have guys to get the ball to, but I think with having someone like Garrett Dozier back there, that’s a pretty good guy to hand the ball off to.
“We know we have to take care of the run. If we can do that, then we can do what we want to do.”
Against Edison, the Red Knights 62 yards on 34 carries overall, with the bulk coming from Dozier (18 carries, 59 yards and two touchdowns). JoJo Savage only ran for one yard but returned a kick 80 yards for another score. Leasure completed just three passes for 29 yards and an interception.
“We have to establish the run. I think the rain hurt us a little more than we anticipated,” Franke said. “Caleb only attempted nine passes overall. When you become one dimensional, it makes it hard to move the ball. Since I’ve been here for the last three years now, when we rush for 200 yards as a team, we’ve only lost one game. That just shows you how important running the football is, and that’s something we’ll have to do against Harrison Central.”
Defensively, Toronto allowed 143 rushing yards on 34 carries and two scores against Edison. They were able to hold the Wildcats to just 61 passing yards on 4 of 16 attempts, although one of them was the first score of the game.
Last season, the Red Knights defended their home field and defeated Harrison Central, 19-12. Mitchell injured his shoulder and missed the rest of the contest. To Toronto’s credit, it took advantage of the situation.
“We know that they’re very good up front with a very strong running game,” Hayes said. “Defensively, they do a lot of different things to try to confuse you and to not give up the big play. We know we have a tall task ahead of us.”
Both coaches added that there are no injuries to report or any athlete that may not play. The Red Knights and Huskies are 100 percent ready to battle it out on the gridiron tonight.
“They have some really athletic kids. It’ll be a little different than what we saw Friday night,” Franke said. “We saw a tough, physical Edison team. There’ll be a couple little adjustments we’ll need to make on our end, but I think we’ll be okay.
“Our kids are excited to play on a live broadcast. It gives your kids a little something extra to play for.”