Traveling from one corner of the state to the other is not exactly what a coach wishes for during the regular season, but that's exactly what the Liberty Center Tigers are facing this weekend.
A void in the Tigers' schedule and limited options at the time the game needed to be scheduled left the need for someone to tussle with in Week 7 of the high school football season. It just so happened that Ridgewood High School in West Lafayette, Ohio approximately 185 miles southwest of Liberty Center, was facing the same issue.
Because of the long drive, it also meant a break from the normal Friday night lights and a rare day game on a Saturday.
"We were open Week 7 and trying to schedule anybody we could and at the time, and that was the only thing we could find available," stated Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen. "Ideally I'd like to play Friday, but because of the distance and everything, the school decided it would probably be better to play on Saturday."
At the time the game was scheduled, the Generals' head coach never thought it would be as "big" a game as it has turned into.
"It was a game we had to have for Week 7 and I think they were looking for the same thing, it just turns out that it's now turned into such a big game in the state, purely by accident," said Ridgewood mentor John Slusser, noting that they searched for teams in Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina as well. "When we scheduled it, they weren't supposed to be as good as they are, I think they caught some people by surprise how they've come on this year. A lot of people thought that this year, we wouldn't be as good as we have been."
For the Tigers, who have to make the long journey, it also means an early Saturday morning and finding ways to deal with a lengthy bus trip prior to the game.
"We're leaving at like 7:30 a.m. in the morning (on Saturday)," said Lingruen. "A big concern is definitely the distance and everything, but hopefully it's something that we can handle. We'll take some breaks along the way, probably stop and get something to eat, try and stretch our legs and try to prepare as best we can, but it's definitely going to affect us a little bit, hopefully it's not that much."
What do these teams have to offer?
Liberty Center brings a fast and physical power game every time the Tigers hit the field. That includes a run-heavy offense led by a group of capable backs and an efficient enough passing game to keep opposing teams' defenses off-balance, and a physical defense ready to take it to the other team. Liberty Center is currently 6-0, ranked No. 8 in the state in Division V, and in a home field playoff spot in their region. They average almost 34 points a game offensively and just two points against.
And the Generals?
Well, it will be like looking in a mirror.
"Obviously the main thing that stands out is how physical they are and how well-coached they are," said Slusser. "They remind me a lot of watching us in that they impose their will on you. They want to run the ball on you and be physical on defense, that's Ridgewood football, that's what we do. It's going to be a carbon copy of each other, really."
Liberty Center is led on offense by Tony Bais (100 carries for 738 yards and three touchdowns) with runners like Sean Westhoven (53 carries, 331 yards, 5 TDs), Zach Niner (35 carries, 232 yards, 4 TDs) and Anthony Righi (29 carries, 182 yards, 4 TDs) who are more than capable of carrying a workload.
On the other side, Ridgewood is led by 5-10, 198-pound senior running back Trent Lingo (76 carries, 536 yards, 6 TDs) and three 200-plus yard rushers in seniors Lenard Davidson (37 carries, 276 yards, 3 TDs), Jake Ziegler (37 carries, 260 yards, 5 TDs) and 6-2 quarterback Chris Saylor (34 carries, 225 yards, 3 TDs).
Liberty quarterback Josh Drain has thrown for 381 yards on 20-42 passing with five touchdowns and only one interception on the year, while Saylor has thrown for 561 yards on 36-64 passing, eight touchdowns and one pick.
Righi has six catches for 128 yards to lead the Tigers in both categories, while Ridgewood's 6-6, 244-pound senior tight end and future Michigan State Spartan Evan Jones, leads his team with eight receptions (for 67 yards) and Davidson leads with 145 yards on seven catches.
The Generals, ranked No. 9 in the state in Division V, are also 6-0, have won 27 straight regular season games and have made the playoffs for eight straight years. They currently sit in the second spot in the computer rankings for Division V, Region 19 and are scoring just under 35 points per contest while giving up 10 points a game.
"They run wing-T more out of the 'jet' formations," said Lingruen. "They're very big and very fast. On defense they run a 4-4 and like I said, big and fast. We're going to find out just how good we are this year. I think this is a real good test and will give us a good idea if we're as good as we hope we are."
The Generals will return the favor, making the trip to Liberty in 2012 before ending their series.
Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.