After seeing their first taste of scrimmage action at Bowling Green last week, Defiance welcomed in both Fairview and Liberty Center to Fred J. Brown Stadium Saturday for a three-team scrimmage against a pair of playoff teams from a year ago.
All three teams faced each other in about an hour session each, splitting their matchups into a 10-play portion for both sides along with a 12-minute down-and-distance setting for both offenses and defenses to show their progress and get work on film.
For Defiance, the contrasting styles of Fairview’s high-flying passing attack and the bruising Wing-T rushing attack from Liberty Center is a solid preparation for the upcoming season and the varying styles of opposition the Bulldogs will face in 2019.
“The scrimmage in general is good for us,” said Defiance head coach Kevin Kline, entering his fourth season as Bulldog mentor, coming off a 4-6 campaign in 2018. “I think I say this every year but yet one team is a heavy Wing T team which we see a lot of in our league and then you’ve got the five-wide team which we also see, so it forces you to adjust to two completely different styles of play.
“Again, it was good experience for our kids. We tried to rotate as many kids in there as we could to see some things. We’ve got some holes that we’ve got to get filled in before we get to Napoleon but overall there’s some positives we’ll take away from and some negatives we’ll have to work on.”
For Fairview and Liberty Center, the opportunity to compete after stellar seasons a year ago bring optimism to their respective communities. The Apaches, 9-4 last season after a run to the regional finals, bring back much of their high-powered offense from a season ago, headlined by senior signal-caller Cade Polter and a host of targets in the receiving corps.
Meanwhile, LC did lose a significant amount from their 12-2 state semifinalist squad from 2018, namely bruising fullback Caleb Carpenter, but 1,000-yard rusher Zach Bowers is back, along with a host of talent on defense.
The host Bulldogs took on Fairview to start the scrimmage off and the Apaches began things with a bang, scoring a pair of touchdowns while throwing an interception on their first offensive possession, including a 30-yard touchdown from Polter to junior wideout Caleb Frank.
On Defiance’s following possession, a nice 15-yard completion from senior Aaron Cruz to Romero Pearson got the Bulldogs down to the two before Cruz dove in for a keeper touchdown.
In the down-and-distance portion, Defiance forced a three-and-out defensively and moved the ball into Fairview territory but penalties and a pair of sacks stalled the drive.
On the next possession, senior Jacob Hutcheson dove for an interception of Polter. Cruz ripped off a long run down to the Fairview 32 and fellow senior Jackson Rey followed with a 20-yard scamper and capped things off with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Liberty Center and Fairview proved their mettle in the second session of the day as both sides traded scores, including a leaping touchdown catch for the Apaches from Ayersville transfer Sam McGuire and a 70-yard touchdown pass from LC junior quarterback Camden Krugh to Max Phillips.
The break between contests for Defiance was made apparent by a slow start for the Bulldogs against Liberty Center as the Tiger defense made things tough for a DHS offense working out of a tight three-back formation.
Defiance drove down to the two-yard line on the last play of their first 10-play portion on a connection from Cruz to Caden Kline before a 26-yard rush from Phillips on LC’s next possession set up an Alex Righi touchdown.
Defiance threw an interception on a roll-out pass from Cruz to Kline on the second possession while Liberty Center completed a scoring drive on an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Both the Tigers and Bulldogs traded long scores on play-action passes from over 50 yards out during the down and distance portion, providing plenty to work on and study in the film room in the coming days.
“We don’t want to just be rolling with just Jackson or (fullback) Tyrel (Goings) on our run game inside, we’re hoping we can see (on film) Sunday, I think we’re just a block or two away on some of our outside perimeter plays,” explained Kline. “That’s really what we want, we want to have balance a little bit more than what we’ve had in the past year. I think there was also progress from our first scrimmage to this one.
“We’ll get to film and we’ll still correct some stuff and try to get on a unique and higher level, hopefully.”
Defiance will conclude its scrimmage slate Thursday at home against defending Division VII state champion McComb at 6 p.m. on ‘Meet the Bulldogs Night.’ Fairview will play their third scrimmage at Montpelier on Friday while Leipsic will welcome in Liberty Center.
Looking ahead, Defiance will get the area season started on Thursday, Aug. 29 at home in their annual rivalry opener against Napoleon while Fairview will host Wauseon and Liberty Center will travel to Tinora.