Blanchester and East Clinton both struggled to start the 2017 season.
The Wildcats were 1-5 against a brutal six-game slate against teams that are a combined 33-12.
The Astros were 0-3 and then 1-4 to the start year.
Both team have righted the ship since then. Blanchester has a three-game winning streak and looks to finish 5-5 while East Clinton has won three of its last six games and seeks a 4-6 mark.
The two teams meet 7 p.m. Friday night at Barbour Memorial Field for the season finale.
“They are a team that has had struggles this year, but will provide a formidable test on Friday night,” BHS coach Brandon Sammons said. “Their roster numbers don’t lend to having much depth, but the players they have play hard. They have an athletic QB and some good players on both sides of the ball. They make things difficult in all aspects and we have to defend the field and account for all their defenders when we’re on offense.”
To end the year on a winning note would be good for the Astros but head coach Jeremy Yankey understands 4-6 isn’t what he wants the record to be in Week 10.
“It’s been a step in the right direction for us but with saying that we still have a long way to go to be where we would like to be,” he said. “We still lack enough guys on the defensive side of the ball who play with both physical and mental toughness. We still make to many mental mistakes on the offensive side of the ball.”
In the Wildcats, Yankey sees a young and improving team.
“They have a very young team that has grown up a lot in the past few weeks after a slow start,” he said. “Brayden Sipple has made really good progress at QB this season. Offensively they like to use a lot of different formations to try to get the match-up that they like. Defensively Blanchester likes to give you different looks from their front.”
Sammons had two returning starters at the start of the year from last year’s playoff team and knew it would be an uphill climb in 2017.
”It was a season of two halves,” he said. “We were so young at the beginning with so few returning starters, that we had so many guys learning what playing on Friday nights was truly about, all at once together. They truly got baptized by fire.”
While that proved tough on the team record this season, Sammons hopes it pays off in 2018.
“We had a lot of young guys that got experience that will hopefully pay off big time in the early part of next year’s schedule,” he said. “We had 14- and 15-year old kids playing against 18-year olds from some other schools. It was a tough start this year that had many challenges, but we learned about ourselves and were able to put together a nice run to end the year and will definitely be much more prepared going into next year.”
The Astros are coming off a disheartening loss to Clermont Northeastern 35-13 last week while the Wildcats won a boat race 44-6 over Fayetteville-Perry.
“Our guys came out loose last week,” Sammons said. “They are playing with confidence right now. Outside of the long pass play our defense was stout all night long. Another great performance in the run game and our (defensive) line was on the attack. Offensively, it was good to run some different things and find success in them. We attacked different parts of the field, which was nice to see. We have to clean some things up at the same time.”
Going back to the 2011 season, the two teams have split six meetings. Blanchester posted wins in 2016 (47-33), 2014 (36-0) and 2012 (26-21) all at Barbour Memorial Field while East Clinton won in odd years, 2015 (21-20), 2013 (28-25) and 2011 (14-0) in Lees Creek.
East Clinton seniors playing in their final varsity football game will be Brendan Jenkins, Brandon Wheeler, Wyatt Floyd, Tyler Collins, Nick Mess and Tristan Hall.
For the seniors at Blanchester – Jacob Burden, Spencer Dissel, Will Childers, Justin Ballard, Cody Henson, Shawn Snyder, Reighdyn Bare and Dylan Baker – Friday night the finale in a season of injuries and challenges.
“Our seniors have really had to battle this year to get our team on track,” BHS head coach Brandon Sammons said. “We’ve done that in the latter half of the season. They’ve battled injuries and other challenges this season, so to finish how we have is a great thing for them. A lot of these guys have poured a lot of time in the off-season and during the season to have a successful season and career. We’re super proud of them and wish them nothing but the best in their future sports and careers down the road.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports