Unblemished UL heading to Harrison for Buckeye 8 clash

Union Local has been one of the best stories of the young high school football season thus far.

The Jets are off to a soaring 3-0 start, but head coach Bruce Stiles knows the road gets tougher and tougher as the season goes along, including this week’s trip to Cadiz to face Harrison Central, which has played well despite a 1-2 record.

“I am excited for the kids,” Stiles said. “They’ve invested a lot of hardwork and they’re really buying in to what we’ve been selling them and it’s paying off. Obviously, that first win (at Monroe Central) was huge and it just boosted their confidence from there.”

The Jets hadn’t won three games combined in the last three seasons, while the Huskies were expecting to be in re-build mode after losing a quality senior class to graduation from a playoff squad in 2012.

“To be completely honest, I think we’ve progressed faster than I thought we would originally,” said Huskies’ head coach Justin Kropka. “We’re tackling better than I thought we would, but the key is to keep getting better. We’ve played a bear of a schedule to start out, so we’re hopeful that pays off.”

The Huskies dropped a 7-6 decision to Wheeling Central in week one, rolled past Weir and let several scoring opportunities get away in last week’s close loss to Western Reserve.

“I think Coach Kropka was telling some stories because Harrison Central is a very good team,” Stiles said. “They’re strong, physical and they have a quarterback who can throw the ball extremely well. They’re a typical Harrison Central team. This is going to be a big challenge for us.”

The Jets’ turnaround, which has been fueled by a more physical defense and a tough running game, has certainly impressed Kropka.

“I think they’ve gotten back to the basics of football,” Kropka said. “They’re doing the little things right. They’re forcing turnovers and capitalizing and they’re not making many mistakes. A lot of these kids played in some tough situations the last couple of years, but they’ve hung in there together. We have a lot of respect for Coach Stiles. This is definitely not our first rodeo with each other.”

Union Local’s defense is allowing less than 11 points a game, while the offense is scoring at nearly a 39 points per game clip.

Eric Dunfee leads the ground attack with 294 yards and two touchdowns. Jake Leishman has been solid with 159 yards and three touchdowns.

Quarterback Travis James has settled into his new role. He’s thrown for 243 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also a capable runner.

Spencer Ware and Isaac Goodson are the Jets’ top wide receivers with seven and five catches, respectively.

“You can’t focus on one guy with Union Local,” Kropka said. “The quarterback does a nice job of managing the offense and they’ve got a stable of backs. Plus, they’re coming off the ball better. It’s just a natural progression of improvement.”

Harrison’s defense is led by Niko Williams, Nate Maykowski, Casey Runevitch and Travis Stenson.

“They like to bring pressure (defensively),” Stiles said. “With Coach (Bryan) Mays being back, they’re really bringing a pressure package. We have to be able to handle that.”

The Huskies’ offense is triggered by strong-armed senior David Miser, who’s completed 41-of-68 passes for 581 yards and six touchdowns. However, he’s been picked off seven times.

Nate Olmstead is his favorite target with 18 receptions for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Stenson and Dalton Rutter have caught eight and seven passes, respectively.

Stenson is the Huskies’ leading rusher with 172 yards on 32 carries.

The Jets’ defense is led by Mason Friede, Tater Blake, Nathan Ferda and Colton McKivitz.

Staskey can be reached at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com