NORTH EAST — It should be a memorable home opener for the North East football team.
Fresh off a Week 2 victory over Fallston, the Indians (1-1) will take the field tonight in front of an energized crowd. The Cecil County program will celebrate the ribbon cutting for the school’s new turf field at 6:30, honor past teams and players pregame, then set out in pursuit of consecutive victories when it takes on winless Joppatowne under the lights.
“Coming off a win is good for the kids for the task at hand, which is obviously to win a game, but surrounding that is the cutting of the ribbon for the turf, we’re having a youth night, where youth run through the tunnel and go through pre-game warmups with us, and we have a big banner in the stadium… and announcements on historical teams,” North East head coach Chris Schleich said. “The whole community should be there and I think the place is going to be rocking come kickoff at 7 p.m. It’s an exciting night for the whole community. It’s not just a football game, it’s a celebration.
“At the same time, I think that that energy will naturally energize our football players,” he continued. “With the way we lost to Joppatowne last year, which was a very disappointing game that we played, I think our kids will have a little bit of revenge in mind. When you add the equation up… it’s a recipe for an exciting night.”
North East enters after a 21-14 win over the previously unbeaten Cougars. Jachai Graham rushed for 244 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Brandon Maenner added 57 yards rushing and one score for the Indians (1-1), who had a fumble recovery from Kris Kozminski and three extra points from Brandon Tolbert.
Joppatowne (0-2) is reeling from a 28-14 loss to Perryville.
“Their quarterback is a big, tall, pretty good athlete. He scrambles a lot and is elusive, so he can cause some breakout type of plays. They run the football with him a lot and he’s a good, downhill runner. He’s a physical kid,” Schleich said of the opposing Mariners. “That presents a challenge for our defense. I’m not going to get into how we’re scheming against it, but it’s a challenge and we have to be prepared.”
Offensively, the Indians are transitioning from a triple-option offense — established during the preseason — to a more traditional power attack.
The new turf should aid the Indians in their ground-and-pound approach.
“We really believe in our run game. That’s kind of what we’re looking at coming into Friday night,” said Schleich, who also pointed to special teams as a spot for big plays. “What happened through camp is a lot of our blocking schemes in the triple option, we were able to implement into a more power-oriented run game. You break down film and to see what’s best for kids rather than beat a dead horse. We still run some option-type movements and blocking but we do it with a more power, play-action set.”
North East is the third Cecil County high school to receive a synthetic field, following Perryville (2017) and Bohemia Manor (2018). It comes one year after the school famously used countless bags of kitty litter and the help from the local fire department to pump gallons of water off the field in preparation for a late-September contest against Patterson Mill that was part of the “Ravens RISE High School Football Showdown.”
“I’m really glad that I’m going to save about $150 to $200 in shoes because they get ruined every year,” joked Schleich. “Honestly, I used to worry about our kids’ legs getting injured on that field. It was always very sloppy.
Added Schleich: “A back like Jachai Graham, who has a very good jump cut, the turf allows him to use his natural ability to cut his feet and move.”
The Indians will aim to start a season 2-1 for the first time under the fourth-year head coach.
“The kids have been engaged. Our seniors are starting to emerge as leaders,” said Schleich, who looks to have a winning season for the first time since 2017. “That was one of the things that helped us boost into a successful program two years ago. The seniors, after a few weeks, began to take leadership of the team and look at the results we had down the stretch.”
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