It’s the series that keeps on ticking.
The Galion Tigers and Bucyrus Redmen will meet on the varsity gridiron at Unckrich Stadium Friday evening in the 2014 season-opener. In what is one of the oldest rivalries in high school football in the nation, the long-time foes will go at it for the 114th time — a match-up that dates back to 1898.
The Orange-and-Blue have a convincing lead in the series with 59 wins, 47 losses and 7 ties — a winning percentage of .553. They have defeated the Redmen five years in a row, including a 42-0 drubbing a year ago in Bucyrus.
For several decades, the programs competed in the same league. From 1919-1944 they were members of the old North Central Ohio League. In 1944, they began football play in the Northern Ohio League. Bucyrus left the NOL in 2002 to join the now-defunct North Central Conference. Galion did the same following the 2010 campaign. In the three most recent seasons, they battled as NCC foes. The NCC has since disbanded, with Bucyrus joining forces with nine others schools in the newly formed Northern 10 Athletic Conference (N10). The Tigers are now a member of the 16-team Mid Ohio Athletic Conference.
Galion graduated more than a dozen players from the 2013 squad that went 9-2, winning a second consecutive NCC championship and earning a spot in the playoffs for the second straight year. Gone from that team are All-Ohioans Alex Armistad and Dareian Watkins. Armistad set single-season GHS records in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Watkins accounted for more than 2,700 yards in offense at quarterback and a program single-season touchdowns accounted for mark of 35.
“They were both great players, two of the best athletes in the whole area,” said Galion eighth-year head coach Chris Hawkins. “We’ll miss them, but we’re not devastated and the cupboard isn’t bare. We’ve got a lot of talent coming back. Some kids have waited two to three years for their opportunity and it’s their time to shine. It’s a testament to our program. I give a lot of credit to kids for sticking with it that long before getting their chance.”
The Redmen are coming off a 5-5 campaign in which they scored 299 points and allowed 298. Heading up their offense is three-year starting signal-caller Cole Murtiff who led the NCC in passing yards (2,184), attempts (228), completions (150) and completion percentage (65.8) a season ago. He threw for 14 touchdowns and was intercepted 9 times. A multi-dimensional threat, Murtiff also rushed for 569 stripes and a dozen six-pointers.
“They are very similar to us,” Hawkins said of the Redmen. “They give him the option to run or feed. We don’t want him to hurt us with his legs. Also, they’ll try to screen you to death.”
The mentor also talked about the rivalry.
“It’s our home-opener, but they’re gonna be jacked,” he stated. “We have to meet that emotion. We’re both 0-0. In my eyes, it’s a unique rivalry. It’s not a hated rivalry. There’s a lot of mutual respect. It’s nice to continue it.”
How to beat the Redmen?
“We have to avoid giving up big plays,” Hawkins answered. “I think we can be pretty dominant up front. If they are going to put the ball in the endzone, we need to make sure we make them drive the ball for 10 or 12 plays. If they’re able to do that, hat’s off to them.”
Offensively for the Orange-and-Blue, junior Jacob Fryer gets the nod at quarterback. Fryer, Drake Barnett and Caleb Ivy have received reps at the position in the preseason. “They’ve been competing and we’re going to start Jake,” Galion’s head coach mentioned. “They each have their positives, but are also inexperienced. It’s a learning process.”
The five projected starters on the offensive line range in weight from 210 to 290 pounds. They are also athletic.
“You can’t be a big blob on the offensive line these days,” said Hawkins when asked about the footwork and technique of the line. “Our pass protection is coming along real well. We need to improve on our run blocking, and I think we will. We’ve got a lot of potential. We’re looking to be physical.”
Kickoff time for all 10 regular-season games for the Tigers is 7 p.m.