OLD WASHINGTON - In now his 10th season at the helm at Harrison Central, Justin Kropka knows very well what it takes to be a successful football team.
It starts with the preparation during the week leading up to the game. He's a firm believer in the cliche that you play like you practice.
He witnessed it again firsthand Thursday evening at the Baker Activity Complex when his Huskies opened the season against Buckeye Trail in front of a large crowd on an ideal weather night for football.
However, the one thing that didn't hold true is that despite not practicing or playing as well as he wanted, the Huskies headed back to Harrison County with a cherished and hard-earned 20-19 victory.
"We've had a million guys out all week and a strep outbreak, but that's no excuse because we didn't prepare the way you need to prepare," Kropka said. "I was disappointed with how we prepared this week and it really showed, especially in the first quarter."
The first quarter of the season ended with the Huskies (1-0) staring up at a 13-point deficit.
The Warriors (0-1) came out and jumped right on the Huskies. They started the game with a 32-yard run right up the middle and eventually scored on their first two drives, while the Huskies lost 10 yards and went three-and-out on their first possession of the season.
"Give Buckeye Trail all the credit in the world because they came out ready to play," Kropka said. "That program is going in the right direction."
The Warriors built a 13-0 lead thanks to the work done on the ground by talented freshman Austin Snodgrass. He scored on an 8-yard run with 10:03 to go in the first.
After a shanked a punt, the Warriors were in business at the Huskies' 31.
On a third-down play, junior quarterback Levi Gadd found sophomore Carter Streiff, who burned the Huskies' defensive backfield for a 16-yard touchdown.
Junior Tyler Faulk connected on the PAT on the second score. A botched snap led to an incomplete pass on the first extra point try.
"We knew coming in that their experience and our inexperience up front was going to hurt us," Kropka said. "We knew they were big and physical. We knew if it was a slobber knocking game that came down to offensive line play, it was going to be a dogfight."
Harrison got some offense going in its second possession. It went on a 13-play, 6 minute, 48 second drive that culminated with a 15-yard touchdown scamper by junior quarterback Zach Arbogast. Austyn Porter caught the pass for the 2-point conversion.
Earlier in the drive, Arbogast made some big plays with his arm. He hooked up with classmate Giovanni Rocchi on a key 15-yard completion that extended the drive.
The Warriors had some other opportunities in the first half, but failed to capitalize. Harrison shanked a second punt that resulted in Trail starting a drive on the Harrison 21. The Huskies' defense held on downs.
Streiff picked off an Arbogast pass on the ensuing drive, but Trail couldn't score despite reaching the 24 yard line.
The string of missed scoring chances continued for the Warriors in the third quarter. They marched to the 10 yard line after the Huskies roughed the punter. The drive stalled, so the Warriors elected for a field goal try, but another botched snap thwarted the opportunity.
That missed chance and the fact that Huskies' senior leader Nate Maykowski, who was highly questionable for the game with an illness, decided to give it a go in the second half.
"To be completely honest, Nate shouldn't have played," Kropka said. "He was taking every other play off (because he was sick). He couldn't hardly pick himself up at halftime, but he tried. I am not sure I've seen a gutsier performance in my long years of coaching. I'm at a loss for words for what (him playing) meant to the game. I don't think we win the game if he doesn't play."
Maykowski's presence was felt on both sides of the ball and served as the pick-me-up that Harrison Central seemingly needed.
On his first drive in the backfield, Maykowski carried three times. He picked up a yard on fourth down to extend the drive, ripped off a 23-yarder to the 5 and then capped the drive on the next play with one second showing on the third-quarter clock. The run for two failed, but the Huskies had their first lead at 14-13.
The Huskies officially had the momentum on their side after forcing a three-and-out. From there, the lethal combination of Arbogast to Rocchi hooked up once again.
On a third-and-long from the 17, Arbogast found his classmate streaking up the left sideline and threw a beauty that resulted in a touchdown. The pass for two failed.
"I am very happy with how our kids played and they came back when they needed to come back," first-year Warriors' head coach Bill Hartmeyer said. "Unfortunately, we gave up the big pass at the end. Give Harrison credit though, they made the play when they needed it."
Trail started its final scoring drive on the Huskies' 30 after a 46-yard kickoff return by 5-3, 115 pound sophomore Kiel Berger, who was all over the field on both sides of the ball all night long.
Utilizing the passing game more, the Warriors needed five plays before Snodgrass plunged in from a yard out.
Trailing by one, Hartmeyer originally sent the kicking unit out to try to tie the game. After a timeout, he elected to roll the dice for the lead, but it was stopped short of the goal line.
"I initially thought we'd kick it, but then I thought about our last attempt (at kicking)," Hartmeyer said. "The kids executed the play we called, but Harrison Central just did a nice job of stopping it."
The Warriors' defense actually held Harrison to a three-and-out, but failed to pick up a fourth down with just under three minutes to play. Harrison Central picked up a pivotal first down thanks to a scramble by Arbogast to seal the deal.
"Without question, this is a wake-up call we needed," Kropka said. "A lot of times we'll rely on our big-play kids, but a lot of those guys didn't play tonight. It's a good thing for a young team on how to come and prepare for a game. My words, though, pale in comparison to what they went through tonight."
The Huskies finished with 311 yards of offense, while the Warriors gained 227. Arbogast finished 13-of-22 passing for 204 yards. Rocchi caught 7 balls for 150 yards.
The Huskies will make their home debut a week from today against Weir. Buckeye Trail, meanwhile, opens a three-game road trip with a journey to Caldwell the same evening.
Harrison Central 20, Buckeye Trail 19
Harrison Central 0 8 6 6 - 20
Buckeye Trail 13 0 0 6 - 19
BT: Snodgrass 8 run (pass failed)
BT: Strief 16 pass from Gadd (Faulk kick)
HC: Arbogast 15 run. (A. Porter from Arbogast)
HC: Maykowski 5 run (run failed)
HC: Rocchi 87 pass from Arbogast. (pass failed)
BT: Snodgrass 1 run. (pass failed)
RUSHING: Harrison Central 28-107-2 (Johnson 7-0; Arbogast 7-22-1; Ball 2-(-6); B. Porter 6-55; Maykowski 6-36-1). Buckeye Trail 39-166-2 (King 1-32; Streiff 13-31; Snodgrass 19-93-2; Pontius 2-4; Gadd, 1-(-8); Berger 2-14.
PASSING: Harrison Central 13-22-204-1-1 (All by Arbogast). Buckeye Trail 6-16-61-1 (All by Gadd).
RECEIVING: Harrison Central 13-204-1 (Johnson 2-14; Mitchell 2-16; Rocchi 7-150-1; Ball 1-19; A. Porter, 1-5). Buckeye Trail 6-61-1 (Streiff 5-55-1; Pontius 1-6).
FIRST DOWNS: Harrison Central 15; Buckeye Trail 13.
FUMBLES-LOST: Harrison Central 1-1; Buckeye Trail 2-0.
PENALTIES: Harrison Central 4-40; Buckeye Trail 5-35.