Beavercreek vs. Xenia football series set despite affiliation split

When the Greater Western Ohio Conference split and 10 teams revived the Miami Valley League, the impact on football rivalries was immediate.

The MVL, split into two divisions, will make its football debut this fall. Every MVL team will play nine league games. That leaves only the season opener to fill.

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Most of the MVL teams already had regular Week 1 matchups, such as Tecumseh at Fairborn, St. Marys Memorial at Sidney and Eaton at Greenville, all on Friday night. But now, playing a non-MVL team after Week 1 is out.

That’s what makes Beavercreek at Xenia so special. It’s also one of three area Thursday night openers. The Greene County communities border each other and have a tradition of playing since the 1960s, when then-rural Beavercreek caught up in population and athletic might to challenge the well-established Buccaneers.

Xenia has joined the MVL and Beavercreek remains in the GWOC.

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“It’s good that Xenia and Beavercreek were able to keep a matchup that works for both schedules,” Beavers coach Nic Black said. “Obviously, it’s right down the road and great gates for both communities. These sort of regional rivalries are great, especially at the beginning of the (season).”

The other two Thursday openers are Alter at Fairmont and Troy vs. Belmont at Welcome Stadium in Dayton. All start at 7 p.m. Most area teams will play on Friday. There are four more area games on Saturday.

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Xenia had the most prolific turnaround of any area team last season. Hopes were high when Trace Smitherman left Stebbins to succeed Bob DeLong at Xenia. Instead, the Buccaneers listed at 2-8 in 2017.

That all changed last year when Xenia jump-started its season with a 41-14 Week 1 win at Beavercreek, stunned mighty Trotwood-Madison on the road in double overtime but missed the Division II, Region 8 playoffs despite a 7-3 record.

“I firmly believe looking back, our start was so important,” Smitherman reflected. “We didn’t know what we were. It didn’t hurt that we played well and were able to build on it.”

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This season it’s Beavercreek that’s looking to recover after slumping to 1-9. The Beavers have two new opponents. Ponitz replaces Carroll in Week 2 and Trotwood bumps Fairborn in a Week 8 matchup.

Black, in his sixth season as the Beavers’ head coach, is stressing team unity.

“We’re about the unit,” he said. “We’re 11 as one.”

Smitherman insisted there was no magic formula that transformed Xenia football. “We just went to work,” he said. “I truly feel like the first game, it really impacts everybody. The school morale really grows if you can get that first win. Obviously, Thursday will tell us all we need to know.”

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• Fairmont’s turnaround under head coach Dave Miller has been just as impressive as Xenia’s. The Firebirds were 1-9 in 2016, Miller’s first at Fairmont after leaving small-school power Covington. Both of the last two seasons have produced 7-4 and D-I playoff teams at Fairmont.

More impressive, that includes a two-game win streak over Alter. Those are the Knights’ only regular-season losses since 2016. Alter rebounded last season by winning 13 straight games, a streak that was snapped by Chagrin Falls Kenston in the D-III state championship at Canton.

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Both teams must replace proven quarterbacks. Alter’s Connor Bazelak is hoping to see playing time as a freshman at Missouri. Miller’s son, Braden Miller, is on the Firebirds’ coaching staff.

Key to the outcome will be Fairmont senior linebacker Trey Baker, 6 feet 1, 225 pounds, and Alter junior running back Branden McDonald (6-1, 224). Baker is a rare four-year starter, second team All-Ohio as a junior and has led Fairmont in tackles each of the past three seasons. McDonald had 1,500-plus yards rushing and 17 touchdowns last season.

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• Danny Gress will make his debut as Troy’s head coach. He was promoted to succeed Matt Burgbacher, who left to succeed Joel Derge at Tippecanoe. Troy (10-2 last season) hammered visiting Belmont in last year’s season opener .

Belmont (5-5) won the Dayton City League title last season. Earl White is in his sixth season as the Bison’s head coach.

• In other Dayton City League play at Welcome Stadium it’s Ponitz vs. Columbus Beechcroft on Friday. Saturday’s City League doubleheader at Welcome is Meadowdale vs. Thurgood Marshall at 1 p.m. and Dunbar vs. Cincinnati Roger Bacon at 7 p.m.

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