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OVC football coaches say league is balanced

August 19, 2018

HUNTINGTON - None of the high school football coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference picked a definitive favorite to win the league this season, but all said to watch out for Rock Hill.

Redmen coach Mark Lutz declined to accept the role of team to beat, but said he’s optimistic his team can improve on last year’s 4-6 mark that included two seven-point losses, a three-point defeat and a one-point setback. Rock Hill went 3-4 in league play in 2017.

“We can be competitive if we stay healthy,” said Lutz, in his second season with the Redmen.

Lutz pointed to his alma mater, Ironton, as one of the teams capable of winning a conference he said is balanced. Lutz said the Fighting Tigers have an advantage in quarterback Gage Salyers, who he called one of the better athletes in the area. Lutz, though, also said Gallia Academy’s experienced backfield makes the Blue Devils a significant threat.

Ironton, Gallia Academy and Portsmouth have new coaches who will add to the unpredictability of the league, Lutz said. Coal Grove won last year after Ironton had taken the title the previous two seasons.

Fighting Tigers coach Trevon Pendleton touched on nearly every team in the OVC as he tried to analyze who might win it.

“Alex Penrod at Gallia, I’ve known him a long time and he’ll do a great job,” Pendleton said. “I played against Evan Ferguson at Coal Grove and he’s excellent. We know the type of program Mark Lutz has been around as an assistant at Ironton and he’s doing a great job at Rock Hill. Melvin Cunningham at Fairland will get the most out of his players. Andy Clark does a great job at Chesapeake. James Gifford (South Point) played at Appalachian State and he did a great job at Sciotoville.”

Cunningham, whose team went 6-4 overall and 6-1 in the league to finish second last season, said he sees the title race as competitive.

“Someone told me the OVC was down and I started laughing,” Cunningham said. “Ironton had set the mark so high that everyone else had to grow up. Ironton is still great. Gallia is amazing. Rock Hill has (1,000-yard rusher) Logan Hankins and Chesapeake has (quarterback) Austin Browning, the best player in our conference. Coal Grove has a lot of guys back and they’ll be ready. I think the OVC is the most-balanced conference in the area.”

Cunningham said he doesn’t know who will win the championship, but is sure of how the title will be won.

“It comes down to five-to-seven plays every game,” Cunningham said. “Whoever makes those plays wins.”

South Point went 2-8 overall and 0-7 in the OVC last year. Gifford said he doesn’t expect anyone to pick the Pointers to win the championship and said he appreciates the talent in the league.

“It’s a good league with coaches who know football,” Gifford said.

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