LENOX — Lenox and Sidney both head into Friday’s matchup at 3-0 overall and 2-0 in Eight-Man District 8, giving the winner of the game early control in the district title race.
CAM is 1-2 overall, but is 1-0 in district play. Fremont-Mills is 1-1 overall, and opens district play Friday against CAM.
Southwest Valley, at 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the district, suffered its first loss of the season last week to Sidney, the defending district champion. The Timberwolves host Nishnabotna this week.
But the feature game of the week is the battle of the unbeatens at 7 p.m. Friday in Lenox as the AP Poll 13th-ranked Tigers host No. 14 Sidney.
“With Sidney, they are the district champions, and they are until somebody knocks them off,” Lenox head coach Allen Dukes said. “We have to go in and play a really good ballgame. Last year, we were in the same situation — both teams were 3-0 — and they came away with a big win. Hopefully we can defend our area here Friday night and have a leg up on the district championship, as well.”
The Lenox Tigers have been dominant in their three wins this season, winning 50-2 over East Union, 56-8 over Essex and 64-30 against Stanton.
The Tigers enter Friday’s contest averaging 275 rushing yards per game and 86 passing yards per game. They average 56 points per game and have allowed an average of 13 points per game.
But the defending district champion Cowboys will provide a tough test for the Tigers. Sidney averages 264 rushing yards per game and 95 passing yards per game, providing an almost mirror image of Lenox.
“I think we kind of mirror each other,” Dukes said. “I think we both like to run the ball more than we like to throw.”
Sidney owns wins of 44-20 over Ar-We-Va, 56-18 over Nishnabotna and 30-26 over Southwest Valley last week.
The Cowboys have given up an average of 21 points per game, and average 43 points per game.
The biggest Cowboy threat so far this year has been senior Chris Osborne, who has racked up 434 rushing yards on 25 attempts (17.4 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. Osborne is also the leading receiver with 99 yards and one touchdown on five catches.
But despite Osborne being the biggest threat, the Cowboys have spread the ball around. Four Cowboy players have caught passes, and each of them has caught multiple passes and has at least 50 yards receiving.
Junior Erick Rodriguez has carried the ball 18 times for 152 yards (8.4 yards per carry) with four scores, while senior Brett Horrach has eight carries for 72 yards (9.0 yards per carry). Junior quarterback Michael Coates has 68 rushing yards on 15 carries with two scores.
“With Coates at quarterback, Rodriguez at fullback and Osborne at tailback, those three are very capable of doing a lot of damage,” Dukes said. “The Osborne kid, if he gets an opening, I don’t know if we can catch him. Rodriguez, he likes to punish people. He’s a horse.”
Coates is 14-of-26 passing with 286 yards and four touchdowns compared to no interceptions.
Defensively, senior Drake Strickler leads the Cowboys with 34 total tackles, including five assisted tackles for loss. Horrach has 30 total tackles, including three solo tackles for loss. Junior Jacob Cain has four solo sacks.
As a team, the Cowboys have only forced four turnovers through three games — an interception returned 46 yards by Osborne and three fumbles.
Lenox also features a balanced attack. Junior Dustyn Rauch is the leading rusher with 311 yards on 38 attempts (8.2 yards per carry) with six scores, while senior quarterback Dustin Gordon has 209 yards on 46 carries, with seven scores. Hugo Montiel has accumulated 173 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns.
Gordon, who is 15-of-31 passing for 260 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions, has spread the ball around to his targets. Caleb Lange is the leading receiver with 118 yards and three scores on five catches, while Rauch has 62 yards on four catches with one score. Spencer Brown has caught four passes for 50 yards with one touchdown.
For Dukes, the key to Friday’s matchup will be Lenox’s offensive line.
“I really think our offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage, because of the Rodriguez kid,” he said. “They play two different fronts. If they’re in a four, he’s a defensive tackle, and if they’re in a three, he’s at middle linebacker. We have to make sure we can get somebody in his way to slow him down.”
Defensively, Lange is the leading tackler with 42 total tackles, including six solo tackles for loss and five solo sacks. Montiel has 38 tackles and Todd Stoaks has 37 tackles. Brown ranks fourth with 32 total tackles, but has six solo tackles for loss and four solo sacks.
The Tigers have forced 11 turnovers this season. Montiel, Rauch, Gordon and Chase Maynes each have one interception. Brown has two fumble recoveries, while five others have one.
One thing is for sure, though. Friday’s game will go a long way in shaping how the district title race shapes up.
“I think it is going to have a big implication on the district championship,” Dukes said. “I think, for us, this is going to be our first big test to see what we look like.”