After the Kentucky Warriors rolled their in-town rivals last weekend, head coach Jamie Rice stressed the need to move on quickly and begin focusing on the next opponent.
“That’s a good team we’re playing next week,” Rice said after Saturday’s game with the Southern Ohio Spartans.
Still fighting for a home game in the first round of the Northern Frontier Football League, the Warriors (7-1) will travel west to take on the Cincinnati Xtreme (4-4). The matchup will be the second of the season between the two teams, who have gotten to know each other quite well over the years.
In a league where the average lifespan of a franchise is just a few seasons, the Warriors and the Xtreme have been models of stability. The squads have been playing each other since the Warriors were established in 2009.
“This is kind of the Warriors’ first rivalry,” Rice said. “We know what they like to do and they know what we like to do.”
The thing both teams like the most is smash-mouth, power football. Both teams have built their franchises around a steady, consistent running game and big-time defensive playmakers.
In week two, it was the Warriors who were able to run their way to victory. Running back Jontez Jones had his first breakout performance for Kentucky, rushing for 161 and three touchdowns in a 40-16 win over the Xtreme. As a team, the Warriors racked up 252 rushing yards, thanks to an additional 91 yards from Luke Brown. But while the score looked lopsided on paper, Rice wasn’t completely happy with his team’s performance that night.
“The game was definitely closer than what that score revealed,” he said.
Turnovers got the Warriors into trouble in the first half. Kentucky quarterbacks threw four interceptions on the night, and the game was tied at 14 after a half of play. But in the second half, the Warriors would ride home field advantage and several big defensive plays to victory.
This week, the Warriors will not be playing in the comfort of Spartan Stadium. Traveling on the road to Cincinnati for a late afternoon game, Kentucky will lose two starters to other obligations, including defensive lineman and team captain Steve Lee and left tackle Jonathon Gauze, as well as some key replacements. Rice knows all too well that depth becomes an issue when his team travels on the road, depth is always an issue.
“You’ll have your starters out there playing special teams. They just wear down a little faster,” he said.
But the Warriors will be bringing a weapon they didn’t have in week two: linebacker Shawn Ziegler. After contemplating retirement, Ziegler didn’t join the Warriors until midway through the season. He recorded 13 tackles in last Saturday’s game with the Spartans.
“That’ll really help in the run game,” Rice said.
Though it will be difficult to catch the Cincinnati Hawks and the Columbus Gladiators for the top overall seed in the upcoming playoffs, Rice knows how important momentum is heading into the postseason.
“You don’t ever want to go into the playoffs losing a game. You want to go into the playoffs hitting on all cylinders,” he said.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. in Cincinnati on Saturday.
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter