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Hornets, Irish clash in game with big MEC implications


One team will try to remain perfect.

The other looks to get back on track.

Chillicothe hosts Lafayette Friday at Jerry Litton Memorial Stadium in a battle of teams in the top half of the Midland Empire.

The Hornets (5-0, 3-0 MEC) — the top-ranked team in the uclicktv.com Big Class Power Poll — seek to keep their perfect start in tact against a Fighting Irish squad coming off its first loss of the season last week in a 35-0 loss at Maryville.

“So far, we’ve played really well,” Chillicothe coach Phill Willard said. “We’ve been very consistent through five games. But we know we have a big challenge with Lafayette trying to contain their speed. That’s going to be a big job for our defense.”

To say the Hornets have dominated this season would be an understatement.

Chillicothe has only allowed two touchdowns, has three shutouts and the only time it scored less than 30 points was week 3 in a 24-0 win over Maryville.

“We’ve been good in all three phases of the game so far,” Willard said. “On defense, we’ve been in good position most of the time, tackled well, gotten good turnovers at opportune times and that’s always key when that happens. On offense, we’ve moved the ball well, haven’t turned the ball over much and our running backs and wide receivers are blocking well for each other. And our special teams and kicking game have been strong.”

Lafayette (4-1, 2-1), meanwhile, put together an impressive first four weeks with wins over North Kansas City (48-14), St. Joseph Central (44-42), Benton (36-26) and Savannah (53-0) to start the season before losing to the Warriors in a game where both teams entered undefeated.

“As the season started our big thing was we wanted to get better every week,” Fighting Irish coach Bart Hardy said. “I think we’ve done that, but there’s still the little things you need to work on every week. As far as kids growing up and maturing, there’s quite a few things we’ve gotten better on but, again, there’s always one or two things you have to continue to work on.”

Lafayette features a dynamic spread offense, with a bit of option mixed in, led by senior quarterback Diego Bernard, senior running back Trey Washington and multiple talented receivers.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some athletes come through here,” Hardy said. “If we go into a game, we focus on what (the opposing defense) is trying to give us. If we throw, we really try and spread it around and try to get everybody involved in the offense.”

Lafayette’s talent on offense isn’t something that’s lost on Willard.

“They’re the fastest team we’ll have played so far,” he said. “They’ve racked up yardage against almost everybody they’ve played. They can run the ball and throw it deep. And the scrambling ability of Bernard is a big concern.”

When the Hornets have the ball, they’ll execute Willard’s wing-T offense with multiple players running the ball, though seniors Josh Kile and Brett Schaffer have gotten the most carries to date.

“Chillicothe is very physical up front,” Hardy said. “And some of their skill players are as fast as our guys. We’ll have to contain their speed and win first down so they get in a little bit longer yardage situations. Our guys understand it’s going to take 11 players getting to the football no matter who we are playing and what we are doing.”

Though the Fighting Irish are coming off a 35-0 loss, Willard noted he doesn’t read anything into that.

“I don’t think last week’s effort is indicative of what kind of team Lafayette is,” he said. “Smithville is a very good team. You can’t go by scores each week. There’s different matchups that take place each week. … And I think we’re always going to get people’s best effort.”

Hardy said the formula for his team to move on from last week has been simple.

“Getting the kids back in a groove, getting them back in being confident and having confidence in our play,” he said. “We gathered them, watched film, and pointed out mistakes and that we just have to make plays. We let them know that you have to come out and be ready to play or you’ll get a similar result.”

Chillicothe still has a showdown with Smithville looming and the Fighting Irish still have Maryville left on the schedule, so the MEC implications for this matchup cannot be higher.

“Last year this game was played very close,” Willard said. “Both teams have lots of the same people back, so it should be a real battle. … We always have a great atmosphere at home and we hope our kids are ready to play because we’ll have to be.”

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