Since 2001, Mechanicsburg and West Jefferson have met 17 times on football field.
The traditional Week 1 matchup was usually a great measuring stick for both of perennial playoff programs early in the season. Now, the rivalry has even bigger stakes — the Ohio Heritage Conference North Division title.
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“It’s a great rivalry because of the respect the two programs have for one another,” Indians coach Kurt Forrest said. “(West Jefferson coach Shawn Buescher) is a guy that when I was coming up through the ranks I always looked up to and had a ton of respect for. … The two programs play the game the right way in my opinion, both very clean, hard and physical. When you put that together, it makes for a nice rivalry.”
The Roughriders (4-2, 0-1 OHC North) — who lead the series 9-8 — travel to unbeaten Mechanicsburg (6-0, 1-0) for a huge division matchup on Friday night.
Last season West Jefferson went 5-0 to win its first division title in its first season in the OHC. It beat the Indians 28-0 a year ago, ending Mechanicsburg’s streak of three straight conference championships.
Mechanicsburg pulled away against West Liberty-Salem in its conference opener last week, beating the Tigers 28-7. The Indians have allowed a league-low 21 points on defense this season.
“We’ve been able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” Forrest said. “We’ve been able to create big plays on offense and take them away on defense.”
The Roughriders lost their first league game last week at Fairbanks 38-24.
“I’m sure they’ll be highly motivated to get back on the right track,” Forrest said. “At the same time, we know how tough the OHC North is and Fairbanks is a darn good football team as well. Every week on this side of the league you better come ready to play or you’re going to get beat.”
The Indians will have to step up against a large West Jefferson offensive line that averages about 6-foot-2, 280 pounds across the board. They’re led by running back Gabe Jones (110 attempts, 724 yards, 11 TDs) and quarterbacks Justin Williams (74-316-4).
“They’re really big up front and they do a nice job of getting a vertical push,” Forrest said. “They give their running backs who are really, really good a chance to get a crease. Those kids run hard, have great balance and they’re extremely quick.”
The Indians are led by senior running back Joey Mascadri (87-727-10). Under center, they’ve used a true two-quarterback system with junior Logan Hurst and freshman Aaron Conley.
The quarterbacks are used interchangeably, often running new plays into the huddle. It helps that they’re each other’s biggest fan, Forrest said. Hurst has rushed for 266 yards and six TDs and thrown for 516 yards and four TDs. Conley has rushed for 402 yards and four TDs, as well as thrown for 237 yards and two TDs.
“I just go by gut feel and whatever the situation calls for, whatever kid I think can operate best at that moment in time,” Forrest said. “We’ve said from Day 1 that these kids can help this football team and they’ve both proven that. It’s given us three ball carriers and it keeps our runners healthy and fresh. … If the position wasn’t called quarterback, it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
The most exciting part of the season so far, Forrest said, is that the team has yet to reach its potential.
“We still have a ton of room for growth and to reach our potential,” he said.
The Indians can’t look ahead, especially against a team like West Jefferson, Forrest said.
“We’ll let the people outside of the program do those types of things,” he said. “When its Mechanicsburg-West Jeff, we’re one thousand percent focused on West Jeff without question.”