Eastwood looks to defend its Northern Buckeye Conference championship with top players, from left, Skylar Dierker, Isaiah Conkle, Jake Schmeltz, Adam Wolf, and Blake Kohring.
After Eastwood ended Genoa's incredible dominance last year, both elite Northern Buckeye Conference programs have refocused their goals on going undefeated and capturing the 2012 championship.
The Comets had won the final four championships in the former Suburban Lakes League (2007-10) and had strung together an incredible 48-game regular-season winning streak entering last season's finale.
Eastwood senior Isaiah Conkle gained 1,190 yards in the regular season.
But the Eagles halted it when they handed Genoa a 25-23 setback in the regular-season finale to capture the inaugural NBC title.
Eastwood coach Jerry Rutherford, entering his 31st season, said his team's goal last season was never focused on snapping Genoa's streak.
"It was never an issue about breaking their streak or anything. It was more us having an opportunity to go 10-0 and to win a league championship, which we hadn't done in awhile," Rutherford said. "It wasn't us trying to stop anything they did. Our guys who played in that know what it's like and they'd like to get back at it and have the opportunity again."
Eastwood had won or shared five straight titles in the former Suburban Lakes League (2002-06) before Genoa rose to prominence under coach Mike Vicars.
Vicars, who posted a 56-7 record and won four league titles in five seasons, has stepped down to an assistant coaching position. He will now be an offensive coordinator for new Comets coach Tim Spiess, who had served as Vicars' defensive coordinator.
"My seat changed in the office," Spiess joked. "It's still the same. Mike still does the offense and I still do the defense. Our goals have always been to go undefeated in our nonleague schedule and to win our conference.
"Whatever happens after that is gravy. That part has not changed. Our No. 1 goal is to win the league. We won it the first four years and we were within 4:52 of winning last year. And that did not sit well with the kids."
Genoa had its 48-game regular-season winning streak ended last year by Eastwood. The Comets will contend again for the NBC title with, from left, John Belsky, Kyle Nutter, Zach Roberts, and Nick Keller.
The title will likely come down to the regular-season finale again when Genoa travels Oct. 26 to Eastwood. According to a preseason coaches poll, the Eagles are pegged to repeat.
With the league's leading rushers and scorers returning, Genoa (10-2 overall, 6-1 NBC last year) and Eastwood (11-1, 7-0) look to have the offensive weapons to make it a two-team race once again.
Genoa has senior running back Kyle Nutter, who led the league in rushing and scoring. Nutter earned All-Ohio first team and is poised to break the school's career rushing record. He has rushed for more than 3,400 yards.
"Kyle Nutter is one of the top returning players in all of northwest Ohio regardless of division," Spiess said.
Spiess said Nutter is getting interest from some Mid-American Conference schools, particularly Akron and Western Michigan.
In a playoff game against Huron, Nutter had 413 yards rushing on 42 carries.
"In my 29 years if I picked an all-time team he would be one of the running backs," Spiess said. "He has added 20 pounds to his frame while knocking a 10th of a second off of his 40 time. His work ethic has been unmatched. It's an unbelievable dedication to a cause, and that cause is Genoa football."
Eastwood counters with senior running back Isaiah Conkle, who finished second to Nutter in the NBC in rushing and scoring.
Conkle earned All-NBC first team after rushing for 1,190 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Genoa senior Kyle Nutter has more than 3,400 career rushing yards. He had 413 in a playoff game.
Eastwood went undefeated in the regular season and then beat Ottawa-Glandorf in a first-round game before losing to Columbus Bishop Hartley.
"Our guys all played and made the playoffs and when you have that extra week it helps you," Rutherford said. "Guys get more practice time and get the opportunity to play in big games. That always helps teams for the next year. Now they know what to expect and how to prepare."
Rutherford said he is utlizing the Wing-T running attack for the second straight season and his players now have the terminology down.
"We are a lot further along than a year ago," he said. "Defensively we haven't changed."
Otsego and Lake look to be the two NBC teams that may give Eastwood and Genoa the biggest challenges. But Spiess said there is now parity in the league, which also features new coaches at Elmwood, Fostoria, and Lake.
"The league is very well balanced. It's a wide-open race," Spiess said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.