By Frank Foreman
With just a one-game history between the two schools, today’s matchup between Conneaut and Meadville isn’t quite a rivalry yet.
Maybe it will take just two games.
Looking for a little revenge tonight are the Bulldogs, who lost to Conneaut 26-20 during the inaugural contest between the schools last season. It may be part revenge and part pride, but for Meadville head coach Mike Feleppa, it’s about ending the 2013 season with a positive.
“I think it’s just important to end the season with a win, and springboard that into the offseason,” Feleppa said. “Obviously, you want to send the seniors out on a good note.”
Meadville (3-6) will wrap up what has been a disappointing season tonight at Bender Field at 7 p.m., while the playoff-bound Eagles (6-3) would prefer to keep things rolling along, rather than let the Bulldogs steal some of the Conneaut momentum.
“It’s a situation where, it’s probably more for bragging rights locally than anything,” Conneaut head coach Pat Gould said. “It’s not vital if we win or lose, it doesn’t hurt us either way. But the kids want to win, and we don’t want to take a step backward.”
The one common with both teams is that they can both move the ball down the field on offense, at times, with relative ease. The big difference this year has been on the other side of the ball, where the Meadville defense has fallen short on a number of occasions, while the Eagles’ defense has been a force to deal with throughout the year.
“It comes down to our responsibility on defense,” Gould said. “You can’t forget about the passing game. Once in awhile, (Meadville) will drop a pass in on you, and you just don’t want it to be for a big play.”
The Bulldogs’ passing game is minimal, but in the final game of the season, there’s no telling what Feleppa has up his sleeve.
Caleb Bish filled in admirably for injured fullback Ryan Harkness last week, rushing for 225 yards and scoring twice. With Bish starting for the second week in a row, Feleppa hopes to see the same production from the backfield.
“In our offensive system, the fullback is really a tailback, and they get a lot of carries,” Feleppa said. “If the offensive line is coming off the ball and doing their job, (Bish) will get a lot of yards.”
Conneaut is 1-0 this year against Class AAA teams, beating General McLane 41-40 in Week 5. That may have been the turning point for the Eagles, a group that continues to win and appears to be getting better and better each week.
“The big thing is, we started believing in ourselves,” Gould said. “The younger kids, the sophomores and juniors, started understanding what we were talking about and trying to do. Basically, now we’re getting the job done.”
Sophomore Hunter Merritt has been a big reason for the success of Conneaut this season. The quarterback has rushed for 1,540 yards and 19 touchdowns. Junior Elijah Anderton has been a spark as well, totaling 718 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns, making the combo one of the best in the district.
“(Conneaut) is big up front, and Hunter Merritt is very impressive. He’s a good athlete,” Feleppa said. “He has a lot of yards running and is very capable of throwing the ball as well. Elijah Anderton runs the ball hard and has a lot of speed. It should be a very good game.”
Despite the outcome, Conneaut will still be playing a week from today. The Bulldogs may not have the opportunity to play another game this year, but for the seniors, it will always be the game they remember.
“We’re just going to go out and play, and let it hang loose. For a lot of these kids, this is their last time on the football field,” Feleppa said. “This is their last game as a Meadville Bulldog football player. The game has a different meaning and a different feeling for the seniors. We want to send them out on a high note.”
A win tonight would certainly accomplish that goal.