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V.A.L.E.S. Trophy on the line Friday night in Cadiz

BRINGING THEIR ALL — Buckeye Local’s Jacob Zanes, left, and Harrison Central’s Kobe Mitchell square off against one another for the V.A.L.E.S. Trophy. (Photos by Andrew Grimm/Kristin Mazgaj)

CADIZ — Buckeye Local and Harrison Central have been battling for the V.A.L.E.S. Trophy, created to honor military veterans, to close the season for close to a decade now.

This year, the week leading up is different due to COVID-19, but the meaning of the game is as strong as ever with teams as talented as they have been in recent memory.

“Our kids get excited for it, our community loves it. We very much look forward to this game every year,” Harrison Central head coach Anthony Hayes said. “Coach (Roger) Herbert has done a great job. He’s been a great fit for them. He didn’t have an easy task when he took that over. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he’s done there. They are absolutely on the right path.”

The Huskies (4-4) are coming off a 62-40 triumph over Waynedale. They have sported one of the top offenses in the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area all season, led by senior star Kobe Mitchell and a host of talent around him.

The Panthers, on the other hand, are coming off a 53-15 blowout of Catholic Central, have won two-straight (both on the road) and sit at 3-6. They sport the area’s top defense and a top 5 ground game led by sophomore Trey Hoover.

“In the last four or five weeks, we’ve really got our things figured out,” Herbert said. “Our defense has done a wonderful job all year. We have dropped our average point totals (against) from around 37 last year to 21 this year. That’s a big deal. As the offense has come along as of late, we’ve certainly become a more complete football team.”

While the typical Monday luncheon and some of the festivities had to be canceled, the trophy is still on the line Friday night. Harrison Central has kept it in Cadiz for the last eight years.

“It gives you a visual reminder,” Hayes said. “The trophy has significance to it more than just playing for it. It has background that we are not only are playing for it, but we also get educated about it, and any time you tie those things together, it adds meaning.”

Buckeye Local won the first year the trophy was awarded in 2011, and Herbert feels the current group of Panthers has a good chance to bring it back to Rayland.

“It hasn’t been back home since,” Herbert said. “For our kids to have a chance to finish on a three-game win streak and bring the trophy back, it speaks volumes to what we’ve been able to accomplish in this second half. It would take the excitement into the offseason. It’s a big game for us, it really is.”

For Buckeye Local, while sitting 3-6 is not necessarily where they hoped to be, it is another step in Herbert’s road to rebuilding the program . The Panthers have not had three wins in a season since 2012 when they went 4-6.

If they are going to do it, the Panthers’ top-ranked defense that averages just 21.22 points and 203.33 yards per game will have to figure out how to stop Mitchell, who is the area’s leading passer with 1,824 yards and 19 scores, while sitting sixth in the area with 532 rushing yards and third with nine rushing scores.

“They have a very talented defensive line and aggressive linebackers,” Hayes said of the Panthers’ defense. “(Hunter) Darrah, who is being recruited by Akron, is enormous. Both of their defensive tackles are really good, their linebackers stop the run and they have a roll-up safety, Brian Palmer Jr., that is a physical, in-your-face kid.”

Mitchell threw for nearly 500 yards and seven scores in Week 9, compiling well over 600 yards of offense and eight scores on the night. He committed to Akron to play basketball on Monday.

“What makes him hard to stop is everything about him,” Herbert said. “He has a good arm, and what I really like about him is his quick release. He is a capable athlete, he can take off an run, but he’s a quarterback first. At the high school level, you don’t see a lot of guys that are absolute quarterbacks, and he is. He is as good as advertised.”

He targets Trevor Carman (No. 1 in the area in all receiving categories), who has 49 grabs for 869 yards and 11 touchdowns and Jon Vermillion with 29 catches for 465 and five scores. The Huskies offense as a whole average 33.38 points and 365 yards per game.

Buckeye Local’s offense has found it’s stride recently thanks to it’s offensive line and Hoover’s emergence as a star tailback. The sophomore started the season at quarterback, moved to running back in Week 5 and has taken the top spot as the area’s leading rusher and current only 1,000-yard gainer with 1,073 yards, 14 touchdowns, an average of better than 6 yards per carry and close to 120 yards per game.

When the Panthers do need to throw it, Taylor, who was injured to start the season but has assumed the quarterback role, has the the third-best completion percentage in the area among passers with more than 50 attempts at 56.14 percent. Palmer (27 catches, 494 yards, three scores) is the sixth-best receiver in the area for a Panther offense averaging 18.11 points and 228.67 yards per contest overall.

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