It’s Vikings vs. Mohawks for winner-take-all SOC I
By PAUL BOGGS
Photo’s by Robert Stevens https://thegoldstudio.smugmug.com/
McDERMOTT – Rusty Webb, whether or not his Symmes Valley Vikings win or lose on Friday night, will hopefully be correct about one thing.
“This is going to be good,” said Webb, the veteran Viking head coach.
What Webb was referring to is Friday night’s ground-and-pound affair for this year’s Southern Ohio Conference Division I championship – as 8-1 Symmes Valley visits 6-3 Northwest for a winner-take-all conference title tilt inside nicely-renovated Roy Rogers Field.
Kickoff at Northwest High School is set for 7 p.m., as the winner officially unseats Oak Hill as the new SOC I football champion.
Both run-oriented squads, with Symmes Valley’s wishbone and Northwest’s traditional two-tight end double-wing set, are a perfect 4-0 in the league – as both were part of the 2014 tri-championship along with Oak Hill.
The Vikings last won the SOC I outright in 2011, while Northwest has never – repeat never – ever captured an outright league championship.
Hence, history is possibly in the making for first-year head coach Bill Crabtree – a Northwest alum – and his young Mohawks.
“It’s exciting. These kids have a chance to do something that’s never been done here. That’s a great feeling,” said the coach. “We owed it to our six seniors to give them a good season. It’s just been exciting for all of them. What better way to top it off than with an outright SOC I championship. I think these kids are ready to rise to the occasion. We’ve challenged them all season and they’ve risen up each time we’ve challenged them.”
The Vikings are equally as youthful – with only five seniors compared to Northwest’s six.
“We are a very young team with mostly sophomores, a few juniors and freshmen. A lot of these kids played last year and played in last year’s four-overtime game against Northwest (32-26 Northwest win). There is no substitute for experience, and that experience last year against many of these same Northwest kids this year is very valuable” said Webb. “We couldn’t ask anything more than having an opportunity, as young as we are, to be playing for an SOC I championship in week 10.”
And, not just an SOC I crown for the Vikings, but a Division VII, Region 27 playoff berth as well.
The top eight teams in each region qualify for the playoffs – with the top four squads earning first-round home bouts.
Symmes Valley, despite its 8-1 tally and only loss against Division V arch-rival Chesapeake, is only ninth in the official Ohio High School Athletic Association Region 27 computer ratings.
A win over the Mohawks should elevate the Vikings into the top-eight and thus a playoff spot, but nothing is for certain either entering – and immediately following – Friday night.
Actually, one thing is certain.
There will be a new SOC I champion.
The Division V Oaks, after a decade of dominance in winning the division outright seven times in 10 years, moved up to the larger-school SOC II.
That opened the door for the remainder of the half-dozen SOC I clubs, although Northwest is now the biggest fish in that pond – as it is also a Division V program.
But the Mohawks have struggled on the gridiron for the majority of their 60 seasons – having experienced just eight winning ones (1961, 1970, 1974, 1975, 1985, 1994, 2016 and 2019), while going just 71-245 all-time in conference play.
In fact, from 1959 thru last season, Northwest had won just 31-and-a-half-percent of its games (181-391-2).
Although, after going 2-60 in SOC II bouts from 2000 thru 2013 – with wins over Minford in 2005 and Waverly in 2010 being the two triumphs – the Mohawks have benefited from their move to the SOC I for football only.
In addition to the 2014 tri-championship, Northwest went 5-5 that year – before going 7-3 the next season, and securing the second-best single-season record in school history.
The Mohawks can tie that mark with a victory on Friday, and also improve their all-time SOC I record to 20-14.
So far, the Mohawks have outscored their SOC I opposition by a whopping school-record 188-68 count, including 69 points alone against Green – in which running back Brayden Campbell tied the OHSAA’s single-game record with nine rushing touchdowns.
However, it won’t be easy against the 30-man Vikings, as Northwest’s numbers are over 45.
Symmes Valley will line up in the wishbone, and run right at the Mohawks like it does everybody else.
“Symmes Valley is big and strong like they always are,” said Crabtree. “We’ve told the kids all week to expect them to come out and try and hit us in the mouth. As far as the numbers game goes, we’re both actually truly playing with about 15 or 16 kids. We have a lot of kids that are practice players for us, but when it comes down to it on a Friday night, we’re playing with very comparable size across the board and skill sets. It’s going to come down to who wants it more come Friday night.”
Northwest will counter with its overly-tight and foot-to-foot line splits – in which all 11 players are essentially within 10 yards of one another.
Campbell is already over the 1,200-yard rushing mark for the Mohawks, while fellow running back Nathan Rivers is around 800.
“Northwest wants to run first. They have very good size up front and are very physical with a couple of speedy backs,” said Webb. “We need to be physical with them at the point of attack, be able to get off blocks and make good tackles.”
In short, certainly expect an old-school smash-mouth football game – in which turnovers are going to be killers, combined with penalties putting either or both teams behind the chains.
And, with this much rushing expected, don’t anticipate the contest lasting much longer than a couple of hours.
“Rusty (Webb) doesn’t change much. He’s done the same thing for probably 20 years. Unless he throws a bunch of wrinkles at us at once, we think we know what to expect. They run the ball, and it’s been successful for them. Same goes for us,” said Crabtree. “We’ve figured out what works best for us, and we stick with that. We’re looking for a big night. It’s exciting just to go in and see who’s better at what we do.”
Indeed, hopefully, it’s going to be good like Webb said – as the better team becomes the reigning, defending and undisputed SOC I champion.