EAST LIVERPOOL - Fear the beard.
Beaver Local senior Matt Sims has taken a page from Brett Kiesel's book. The wide receiver/defensive back has more facial hair than the rest of his team combined. According to Sims, he's just trying to please his fans.
"I grew it last year, but it wasn't this long," he said. "My friends and teammates wanted me to keep it, so I guess I'll stick with it to the end of the season at least."
Beaver Local's Matt Sims. (Photo by Jimmy Joe Savage)
If Sims keeps playing like he did in the Beavers' 21-0 victory over crosstown rival East Liverpool on Friday, he might be banned from the use of any razors.
Sims played a key role in setting the tone for Beaver Local, especially in the first half. On East Liverpool's first possession of the night, Sims intercepted the first pass thrown by Potters' quarterback Kade Reynolds. It ended a three and a half minute drive that had moved into Beaver Local territory.
"I saw the post coming across and I just stepped in the route and picked it off," Sims said of the interception that would lead to Beaver Local's first score of the game.
But Sims wasn't done yet.
On the ensuing kickoff, East Liverpool's Zack English coughed up the ball and Sims was there to make the recovery on the Potters' 29-yard line.
"It means a great deal to me to come up big in this game," Sims said. "I just kept thinking that I didn't want to let my teammates and my coaches down."
Needless to say, no one on the Beaver Local sidelines was let down.
"Last year in this game, it was really his baptism under fire," Beaver Local coach Jeremy McElroy said. "Now, with another year under his belt, he came out and made some big plays for us."
And what about the beard, coach McElroy?
"Sometimes I wonder about that kid," he said. "I guess as long as he keeps making plays like that, it's all right with me."
Beaver Local's Dan Lattanzio lives for "The Game."
During the offseason, Lattanzio grinds through his workouts with one thing on his mind - beating East Liverpool.
The senior running back/linebacker helped his team accomplish that goal right from the start. Lattanzio scored the game's first touchdown with one second left to play in the first quarter on a 14-yard run up the gut.
"It's my senior year," Lattanzio said. "My whole focus was just on getting a win. I didn't care at all about stats or if I scored. I didn't care if I got one yard or 400 yards as long as we came out on top."
He didn't quite get to 400 yards, but Lattanzio did lead all rushers with 82 yards on just eight carries, good for 10.3 yards a clip.
Unfortunately, Lattanzio's day was cut short by cramping.
"It was my calf and hamstring," he said.
Having to stand, or in his case lay, on the sidelines during such an important game was nearly torture for Lattanzio.
"It was just terrible," he said. "I was really frustrated. I kept telling the coach that I wanted to get back in, but he wanted to let me rest and get right."
According to McElroy, Lattanzio capitalized on his limited opportunities.
"He dealt with some cramping, and he was a little down about not being able to be out there," McElroy said. "He still had a pretty good game anyway. He still was able to go out and do the things we expect him to do."
For Beaver Local junior Trevel Thompkins, Friday's game was bittersweet.
Having played for East Liverpool last year, when his brother Marky was the star quarterback, Thompkins had the difficult task of switching sides in what can sometimes be a heated crosstown rivalry.
"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Thompkins said of playing against the Potters. "But I got a chance to play out here at Beaver and I couldn't pass it up."
In his first game with the Beavers, Thompkins made his presence felt on both sides of the ball. He scored a rushing touchdown to seal the victory for Beaver Local in the fourth quarter and made several important tackles from the linebacker position on defense.
One person who knows Thompkins better than most is East Liverpool coach Rick Prescott.
"He's a hard-nosed kid," Prescott said of his former charge. "We love him. He's still a part of the Potter family. He's in a tough, unique situation and I'm glad he's making the most of it. After the game, it was really emotional for him and us, but I'm excited for him and glad he's making the most of his opportunity there."
While Thompkins may still be adjusting to wearing red and white, he said that he is enjoying being back on the field.
"I"m excited," he said. "I'm starting to make a new family out here."