Loveland High School has been one the season’s best stories so far with their bruising running game and devastating defense. The Tigers are an experienced squad and have been building towards a chance to get the program back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Friday night’s test pits Loveland against a feisty Kings’ team that has won three in a row. The young Knights are beginning to find their own identity and starting to show grit and intestinal fortitude. They are going to need all of that character and a boatload of effort to slow down the savvy Tigers in this battle.
LOVELAND TIGERS (4-0, 1-0) AT KINGS KNIGHTS (3-1, 1-0)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday
PLAYERS TO WATCH: There is not a more productive backfield in the Tri-State right now than Loveland’s Nate Slagel and freshman Luke Waddell, who have combined for 1,219 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in four games. Slagel, a junior, has 752 of those yards and 11 of those scores. The defense is senior-laden and battle tested. The unit is led by Charlie Lawler, Brian Popp, Darren Sackett, Mike Weber and Max Mather. The Tigers have 20.5 sacks on the year. Lawler has 12.0 sacks in his last 14 games, including sacks in 11 of his last 12 starts. Mather has seven career interceptions.Kings has their own version of “thunder and lightning” in the backfield. DeAndre Barnett has 40 yards rushing and Matt Sanella is the short-yardage star with six touchdowns on 21 carries. Kicker Matt Woeste is a weapon with field goals of 34, 38 and 41 yards on three attempts this season.
TEAM TRENDS: Loveland has won 12 of their last 16 games. In that span the Tigers veteran defense has allowed seven points or fewer 10 times in those victories, including six shutouts. Kings has not thrown a touchdown pass this season. The Knights have 10 rushing touchdowns.
KINGS’ KEYS TO VICTORY: Finding a way to get Loveland sophomore quarterback Drew Plitt out of his comfort zone of handing the ball off is a must. The Knights can do that by making Loveland play catch up, especially later in the contest. Kings has to be more physical up front on both sides of the ball than they were in last season’s 21-0 loss to the Tigers. The Knights’ offense gave up 6.0 sacks and averaged just 3.0 yards on 37 rushes while the defense gave up 224 yards and allowed Loveland to convert 8-of-17 third and fourth down attempts in that affair.
LOVELAND’S KEYS TO VICTORY: The Tigers have made no secrets about the way they are going beat you by running the football. No one has been able to stop their rushing game yet and until proven otherwise the ground attack will be Loveland’s bread and butter.
PREDICTION: LOVELAND 28, KINGS 7