BY AARON PATTERSON
In a season in which nothing has been guaranteed for the Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman Buffaloes, they enter the final two weeks of the season looking for a guarantee. With five wins, all they need is one more to guarantee them a spot in the playoffs. But that might be easier said than done.
Though their Week 9 opponent and biggest rival, Westville (2-5 overall, 2-3 in the Vermilion Valley Conference), has had an uncharacteristic season of struggles, the annual Coal Bucket game can never be taken lightly. And this week won’t be much easier as they take on the undefeated and Class 2A sixth-ranked Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils (7-0, 4-0) who are looking to secure their first-ever VVC title, and first undefeated season since 1985. A win on Friday would accomplish both.
But with a relatively young team, GRFC coach Josh Cavanaugh is doing everything possible to keep things simple.
“We as coaches have said, ‘It’s a game,’” Cavanaugh said. “(Arthur-Lovington coach) Dale Schuring said it, and I wish I could take credit for it, ‘These last two games have the exact amount of importance as our first two games.’ And they really do. Those two games, if we wouldn’t have went 1-1 in those first two games, we would already be in it. If we do go 1-1 in these next two games, well then, we’re in. They do have the exact same amount of significance. We haven’t applied any more pressure.”
While no internal pressure is being applied, escaping the pressure of the Blue Devils defense might be the Buffaloes’ biggest challenge. Through seven games, Bismarck-Henning’s front seven have produced 23 sacks and a total of 105 tackles for loss.
Defense has been their unquestioned strength, but perhaps the biggest strength of the coaching staff has been helping the team avoid complacency through its success. Dodd finds no reason, however, to worry about distractions this week.
“I think it helps that Georgetown is a really good team,” he said. “This is a chance for us to win the conference, which is something we have never been able to do since the VVC was started. I don’t think focus will be the problem.
“I really am proud of our kids, and I think that because we have a lot of seniors and a lot of kids that have experience, I think they just get it. You can’t always say that about high school kids, but this group has been pretty good that way.”
That leadership and experience has trickled down to even those still learning the game at the varsity level. Bismarck-Henning junior lineman Wilde Garowski is playing his first year on varsity, and has already learned from those who found success during last season’s run. He caught on quickly and recorded his first varsity sack in the season opener against Martinsville.
“It’s a lot faster pace and a lot harder pace,” said the 6-foot-5, 295 pound lineman. “You’ve just got to pick up your game. Going from JV to varsity is a big step.
“We’ve just been playing like we usually do,” he continued, “like they’ve taught us. We just do what they say and stick to it.”
Garowski is one of seven linemen the Blue Devils have used weighing 235 pounds or more. Entering the season, Cavanaugh was looking forward to watching the improved play and size of his own team’s line. But he said few teams can match up pound-for-pound with the Blue Devils.
“They are as big of a high school line in 2A as you’re really going to find,” Cavanaugh said. “They’re huge. Then they’ve got (Kevin) Allen in the middle. (Patrick) Ganley looks small next to those guys, but he’s not at all. I stood next to Devin Hester one time and he’s not small, but he looks really little compared to everybody else. Their small kids are not necessarily that small.”
Dodd and the Blue Devils, however, realize the challenges they are faced with in possibly clinching their first VVC crown, and first undefeated season in 27 years.
“They’re good, and our kids know that,” Dodd said. “We’ve watched film and we’ll see it (on the field). It’s not going to be a surprise. They’re a heck of a good team. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re in for a war on Friday night.”
The Buffaloes are coming off their second loss of the season in a 33-7 defeat by the Salt Fork Storm (5-1). Salt Fork will host East Central (0-7) in a non-conference game on Friday, and will also accept a forfeit win from Schlarman Academy.
Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac (3-4, 1-3) takes on Milford/Cissna Park (4-3, 2-3) in a battle of teams also trying to keep their playoff hopes alive. Westville will have the week off after being originally schedule to take on Hoopeston Area.