By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — The first half of the season, tough as it always is, was just the warmup.
Now the gauntlet truly begins.
As high school football season officially enters its second half with Week 6’s action, the league matchups become more and more important. And while Tippecanoe will only just be beginning its division title chase, other races have already taken shape — and Covington and Miami East will both be looking to remain undefeated in the Cross County Conference heading into their Week 7 showdown.
The Buccaneers have the tallest task this weekend, hosting Tri-County North. Both teams enter with matching 4-1 records, but the Panthers haven’t given up any points in their last nine quarters of play, including a 28-0 victory over Bethel in Week 5. Currently, Tri-County North’s only loss is a 35-14 opening-night defeat at the hands of now-5-0 Brookville. The Panthers are also the reigning CCC champions, going 10-0 in the regular season last year when they defeated Covington 36-6.
But these Buccs are a different team than last season. A year older and more experienced, they’ve cruised to a 3-0 start in CCC play after an opening-week loss to St. Henry, and in Week 5 they held off a talented and previously-undefeated Troy Christian team, 28-14, shutting down an offense that was averaging 47.3 points per game. Meaning that points could be incredibly difficult to come by Friday night.
That may not be as big a problem in Miami East’s matchup at Bethel.
The Vikings, also 4-1 and 4-0 in the CCC, have scored an average of 48.8 points per game since their 21-7 Week 1 loss to Milton-Union. The past two weeks, Miami East has defeated currently-winless teams, winning a shootout against Arcanum 62-40 and routing Mississinawa Valley 48-7.
Bethel may be coming into the game with a 2-3 record (1-2 CCC) after back-to-back losses, but those losses came to Covington and Tri-County North. Before coming up against those two top-notch defenses, running back Josh Wills piled up more than 800 yards in the first three games.
For the Vikings, it’s the last sub-.500 team they will face before four one-loss teams to end the season. For the Bees, it’s the third in a run of five currently-4-1 teams. Neither can afford a second loss at this point — particularly the Vikings if they want a shot at the CCC title.
Undefeated Tippecanoe, meanwhile, will begin its final run through the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division this week against Springfield Shawnee. In fact, the 5-0 Red Devils begin division play against the two cellar dwellers — the 1-4 Braves this week and the 1-4 Bellefontaine Chieftains in Week 7.
Tippecanoe is coming off of its toughest test of the season to date, a come-from-behind 17-13 victory at Ben Logan. For the next two weeks, the Devils’ biggest challenge will be maintaining focus and not looking ahead to a Week 8 showdown against 5-0 Stebbins — which any coach will say is challenge enough.
While some would call 4-1 Milton-Union the surprise of the season, coach Mark Lane and his team aren’t surprised by their success in the slightest. The Bulldogs are one of three teams currently unbeaten in Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division play — and Friday night, they’ll face one of the others in Madison (2-3, 1-0 SWBL Buckeye).
Madison is coming off a 35-17 loss to Oakwood a team Milton-Union defeated in Week 2 — and has lost three of its last four. With a Week 7 non-division matchup against 5-0 Brookville on the horizon, the Bulldogs can gain even more momentum going into the season’s final stretch with a win on the road tonight.
Troy Christian, now 3-1 after the loss to Covington, will look to bounce back this week at home against another CCC team, 1-4 Ansonia. The rest of the Eagles’ schedule is against CCC teams, as well, with two games against winless teams and two other games against 4-1 teams. Troy Christian fell to seventh in the Division VII, Region 26 playoff standings after its loss, so it needs to get back on track to stay in the race.
Lehman, meanwhile, could pick up a heap of computer points this week as it completes a three-game road trip at 5-0 Riverside. It took the Cavaliers a last-minute drive to rally and defeat 1-4 Perry in Week 5, though, but Riverside’s five wins are against teams with a combined record of 4-21, so anything can happen.
And the Piqua Indians snapped a two-game losing streak to remain in the Division III, Region 10 playoff picture. The 3-2 Indians will open Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division play at home against 3-2 Butler, which is trying to remain in the D-II, Region 6 hunt. There’s more than just division title hopes at stake tonight for both.
Bradford, meanwhile, will host the Dohn Community Panthers in the third game of a four-game homestand. The Railroaders have split the first two games, defeating Hillcrest then losing to 4-1 Northridge, and they’ll finish it against 1-4 Jefferson in Week 7.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.