LIMA — Going into the opener against rival Middletown, Lima Senior, despite 21 seniors, still had some unanswered questions. But a spectacular second half that saw the Spartans, down 14-13, rally to shut out the Middies 21-0 for a 34-14 victory has Lima Senior head coach Andre Griffin confident things are moving in the right direction.
Griffin admitted he was nervous going into the game because the Middies were a better team than last year and he did not know how his first-year starters were going to react. But after shaking off those first game jitters and overcoming turnovers, he said he liked what he saw in first game.
“The first half we came out excited and really it was on us in the first half with dropped balls and turnovers but at halftime I really wasn’t nervous,” Griffin said. “Going into halftime we really didn’t make any adjustments, we just didn’t want to make mistakes.”
Offensively, Spartan quarterback Adrine Mitchell had a banner night as the second-year starter was 11 for 17 for 173 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 121 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. Mitchell had scoring scampers of 3 yards and 52 yards.
“He (Mitchell) has put in a lot of work this offseason and he really showed it Friday night,” Griffin said. “Hopefully he stays healthy and we told him he needs to slide more and go out of bounds. Once he gets in the open field he is hard to catch.”
One of the key questions was who was going to fill the void left by Jaden Walker, and it appears Xavier Nichols, making his first appearance as a running back, is up to the task after rushing for 113 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown. One of the highlights for Nichols was a 73-yard run that gave the Spartans their first score.
Another positive to come from the game was the play of receiver Jaleel King who had four receptions for 97 yards, including a 77 yard touchdown grab for the Spartans’ second touchdown. King also made his mark when he tossed a touchdown to Jermaine Daniels for 32 yards in the third quarter.
Griffin, who praised his receivers play, added that one of the reasons for King’s outstanding performance was the Middies were focusing their attention on wide receiver Keaton Upshaw.
Defensively, Griffin said he thought the defense had a solid performance.
“After their first two touchdowns we pretty much shut them down,” Griffin said. “The defensive line looked good. ‘Tank’ Jordan McClendon finished the game really strong which was good because he was going both ways.”
Senior linebacker Danielle Lowe produced 15 tackles and recorded two interceptions.
However, Griffin pointed to the play of Rashard Wallace, a junior defensive back, who worked hard during the offseason.
“They kept going after him and he kept knocking the ball down and making tackles and had an interception at the end of the game,” Griffin said. “Usually I want those guys to knock that ball down at the end but in that game I was hoping he would get that interception. He had a heck of a game.”
With a win under their belt, the Spartans must now prepare for a tougher opponent when they face Division III Eastmoor at 7 p.m. Friday at Spartan Stadium. Eastmoor, which made the playoffs last year, kicks off a string of three straight weeks that the Division II Spartans play against teams that made the playoffs.
In Eastmoor’s 46-19 opening win against Franklin Heights, the Warriors picked up 315 yards on the ground. Savon Edwards had 145 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns and Cody Little ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
“Eastmoor has been a playoff team that last three or four years and have a lot really good athletes,” said Griffin, who roamed the fields of Eastmoor as a child. “They are a really small team that carries about 40 but the guys they got are really good.”
Griffin said the defense will have to stop the Warriors, who use multiple set offenses, if they are going to be successful but he said Eastmoor will also try to strike over the top against the defense with the pass and the defensive backs are going to have to have short memories because they might get burned once or twice but they are going to have to continue to focus.
“They are not going to change anything because they have that confidence within themselves,” Griffin said. “At the same time the stuff they do can work to our advantage. I’m interested to see when we get on top of them how they are going to react.”
Defensively, the Warriors run a 3-3-5 defense.
“It is a little bit different and they will bring blitzes from the outside so our O-line has to really be into the game and hopefully we can create some things,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he is hoping the Spartans jump out early and play a full four quarters to close Eastmoor out.
“On paper we got to continue to get better through the week, but I think we should definitely beat this team but we have to be motivated,” Griffin said. “We are not used to playing Eastmoor. They get really, really motivated against the teams they know and this is a new team.”
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter at @JoseNogueras1