Dragons seek happy Homecoming vs. GM
Warren played two best teams in District 10 Class 5A in back-to-back weeks, and while the results have sent them reeling a bit, they remain positive, upbeat and focused heading into Homecoming tonight against General McLane (War Memorial Field, 7 p.m.).
“The big key to this entire week has been keeping things in perspective,” said Warren coach Mark Morelli. “We had two of the best teams in Region 7 back-to-back and obviously we didn’t perform as well as we would have liked to. We’re trying to keep things positive and our practices have been pretty good.”
They will be facing a General McLane team that comes into the game a very uncharacteristic 1-5. Their five losses, however, have come against Slippery Rock, Meadville, Oil City, Conneaut and Fort LeBoeuf, teams with a combined record of 21-9.
They were also dealt an unfortunate blow when star running back/defensive back Ben Howe-Jones was lost for the season to an injury he sustained against Meadville. The senior is one of the best players in District 10 and has Division I FCS offers from Villanova, Robert Morris, Albany and New Hampshire, among others. That being said, this is a team that is much better than their record indicates.
“They are a team that’s used to winning and a program that has a tradition of being successful,” Morelli said. “Their coach (Jim Wells) is one of the most respected in District 10. They are better than their record. They’re still a challenge to prepare for and a team that we’re going to have to work really hard to score points on and compete with.”
Even without Howe-Jones, the Lancers have a diverse offense led by junior dual-threat quarterback Matt Leehan, who has thrown for 707 yards (51 percent completion percentage) and rushed for 162. Behind a physical offensive line, fellow juniors Jared Ivarone-Campbell (190 yards) and Jaxon Scrutchins (169) will also see a heavy workload on the ground.
When Leehan goes to the air, Nate Jones (13 receptions-248 yards-19.1 yards per catch-2 touchdowns) and Ben Lipinski (10-188-18.8-1) are his top targets.
“They run a diverse offense with a lot of misdirection,” Morelli said. “They like to mix things up between the jet sweep and running between the tackles. Their quarterback likes to run the ball. It’s not like we can key on one player, they diversify their offense to keep teams off balance.”
Offensively, the Dragons look to get back on track following a pair of rough performances against the Bulldogs and Oilers. They will get a boost in the form of junior running back James Swanson, who is probable to return after getting injured in the Week 2 game against Fort LeBoeuf.
Quarterback Micah Passmore and the passing game with receivers Ryan Arnold and Alex Anderson will aim to get going as well. But the Dragons know that they have to be successful running the ball, which starts up front.
“The big thing is we have to get the running game going to open up the passing game,” Morelli said. “We’ve got to find it within ourselves how to correct that (physicality).”
Defensively, the Dragons did well at times against the Oilers, but one of the big things was their inability to get off the field on third down.
“There were times when we didn’t do all that bad,” noted Morelli. “But we had two fourth-down plays in first quarter alone where we didn’t make the stop and a third-and-9 touchdown pass in second quarter. We have to be doing something right to put Oil City in those types of situations, but when those situations arise, we’re not making the plays we need to make.”
And then, of course, there is the Homecoming aspect of the game.
“It’s been a pretty normal week of practice, but I think it will hit them tomorrow night how big it is,” Morelli said.