McEachern leads the all-time series 12-11-1 having won four straight and five of the last six meetings. Back-to-back region champions in 2009 and ’10, the Indians lost the title to rival Hillgrove a season ago, but they have high hopes of getting it back.
It won’t be easy, however. With the addition of Marietta (2-1, 1-0) to what is now Region 4AAAAAA, as well as the improvement of several other region teams, landing the championship and a coveted state playoff bid have gotten even harder. The Blue Devils would know after all, having defeated Hillgrove 27-13 last week to begin region play.
“Obviously, last weekend was a big win for us,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “But it doesn’t mean a whole lot if we don’t win (tonight). I preach to the kids that the games get bigger each and every week and you have to build on your performance from the week before.
“We cleared one hurdle last week by beating Hillgrove. The next hurdle is McEachern. Our focus is on doing what we need to do to become a better football team, and not worry so much about what the other team is doing. Our focus is on Marietta.”
McEachern’s focus last week was bouncing back from a 0-2 overall record. The Indians (1-2, 1-0) managed to do that with a narrow 30-23 victory over Pebblebrook to begin Region 4AAAAAA play. Offensively, McEachern gets the kind of production one would expect from Kyle Hockman’s team. However, defensively, there are concerns for the Indians, who have given up an average of 30.3 points per game.
“Offensively, for us, it all starts up front with our four senior offensive linemen — center Sherrod Pittman, left guard Demetrius Garner, right guard Travis Fair and left tackle Jajuan Dulaney,” Hockman said. “They’ve done an outstanding job controlling our run game and communicating during our passing attempts. They’re the backbone of our offense.
“Defensively, the results really speak for themselves. We have one returning starter, and we’ve made some improvements after losing some guys to injury over the past couple of games.”
Notable absences have included safety Daryus Thompson, who has missed the last two weeks, and safety Kell Parham and cornerback Denard Ford, who did not play against Pebblebrook. Parham and Ford missed last weeks practices, but may play tonight.
“It all starts with (Marietta’s) talented quarterback (Anthony Jennings),” Hockman said about what his defense expects to face tonight. “We’re looking forward to the challenges he presents. He does a great job running their system and taking charge. He’s a leader and an outstanding player.
“We have to figure out a way to contain him and their two talented receivers (Tyree Harris and Jordan Mathis). They’ll present a huge challenge for our banged up secondary.”
Jennings comes into the game with 869 yards passing with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. He has also run for another 198 yards and four touchdowns.
Another injured McEachern player, quarterback Ty Griffin, suffered a high ankle sprain in the season-opening loss to Grayson and hasn’t played since. He participated in drills this week and it’s probable he could play tonight.
“(Ty) is a game-time decision,” Hockman said. “It’s likely we’ll only use him in an emergency situation.”
Marietta is potent enough on offense that it could take advantage of McEachern’s deficiencies on defense. Burton would like to see that group operate effectively and consistently throughout the game.
“We have to have balance offensively,” he said. “Protect the football and keep our guys in manageable situations (as it relates to down and distance) which keeps the playbook open for us.
“Defensively, McEachern is explosive at the skill positions, so we can’t miss tackles and we have to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.”