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Falcons, Hawks excited for season opener

Central's Shane Watson looks for yardage in a playoff game last season. The Falcons start the 2018 season on the road against Skyline tonight. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Central and Skyline have plenty of excitement going through their respective programs as the Falcons and Hawks get ready to face off tonight in the season opener for both teams.

The Falcons are coming off an 11-1 season in which they went undefeated in the regular season. Even though Central returns a lot of players from last year’s squad, head coach Mike Yew knows Skyline will present a lot of challenges, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

“They’re well-coached,” Yew said. “They spread their kids out. They find ways to get athletes the ball. And something (Skyline head coach) Heath (Gilbert) has always been good at is they try to run a lot of formations. They try to find the best advantage to put you in a hole the best way they can. And then they just try to find a way to put their athletes in the best formation they can to get the ball in space. That’s their thing – so we got to find ways to stop that.”

Skyline has a lot of new faces at the skill positions on offense, including at quarterback. Chase Tasker will take the reins replacing 2018 graduate Ryan Scott.

Gilbert said he’s been happy with what he’s seen from Tasker in the preseason.

“His leadership has been so much better this year,” Gilbert said of Tasker. “Him taking his responsibility as a quarterback has been better. (Skyline assistant) Coach (Dick) Allenson and I, we’ve talked about it a couple of times over the summer (Tasker’s) demeanor, him being here has been so much better from the start. I think (Tasker) realized that Ryan’s gone and it’s going to be on me, and I’ve got to step up and take care of this. So he’s still Chase, which is good, but he’s taking on more of a quarterback demeanor.”

The Hawks, who went 4-7 last year, used Scott as a runner a lot over the past few years using a lot of read-option plays. Gilbert said they will still run Tasker some to keep the defense honest, but Tasker’s arm is his strength, and they will be using more of the run-pass-option plays with him.

The Hawks will also have some talented new receivers for Tasker to throw the ball to including, Caleb Reedy, L.T. Barber, Nigel Wood and Anthony Domino.

Gilbert said Bogdan Ion and Ty Clingerman will split the majority of the running duties and they will have a solid offensive line to run behind. The Hawks bring back four of their five starters on the offensive line.

One of those starters, senior Marcel Roy, said that he’s been very happy with what he’s seen from the offensive line so far this season.

“I think we’re doing well,” Roy said. “Last year teams rolled over us, but I think we got bigger and stronger and we play as a team now. I think we’ll do pretty well.”

Skyline’s offensive and defensive lines will face quite a challenge against the Falcons. Central returns all but one of it’s starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad.

Gilbert said he watched Central’s scrimmage with Broadway, Skyline’s second opponent, and was impressed with Central’s offensive and defensive lines.

“It’s like I’ve been telling the boys all week long, it’s like a street fight,” Gilbert said of Central’s offensive and defensive lines. “Obviously they’re not punching and doing that, but the way they play football is like a brawl. They come off hard, and they keep getting after it. I was actually impressed with both teams. Broadway’s offensive and defensive lines against them as well. They were getting after each other. So we know what’s ahead of us and what we need to do. If you back down, it’s not going to go our way. For us to have a chance to win, we got to be willing to brawl for four quarters.”

Central senior offensive and defensive lineman Declan Franklin said he knows going against Skyline will be a challenge, but he’s confident in how the Falcons will perform.

“They’ve got a couple good guys,” Franklin said of Skyline. “Our defensive and offensive line needs to make sure we engage, and we do what we need to do, and everyone else around us will clean up. And as long as everyone does their job, we should have a good game.”

Unlike the Hawks, Central returns a lot of its starting skill position guys on offense. Central senior running back Shane Watson will look to lead the way again on the ground, while senior quarterback Zeb Dyer tries to find open targets to throw to.

The Falcons’ most explosive player on offense is senior wide receiver, Kyle Clanton. The all-purpose speedster touched the ball 71 times last season and scored 26 touchdowns.

In last week’s scrimmage against Broadway, Clanton touched the ball twice and scored on both plays.

“Zeb (Dyer) threw a great ball to Kyle (Clanton) for a touchdown,” Yew said of the scrimmage. “And we ran Kyle for a reverse for another touchdown. So there’s no secrets. Skyline knows who Kyle Clanton is and everybody we play will.”

Yew said that the Falcons, who have been battling injuries during the preseason, are starting to get healthy but he’s not sure when some of the injured players will return.

Franklin said that the intensity and excitement have definitely gone up this week with the regular season about to start, especially for the seniors.

“Coach Yew always says to the seniors that we’ve got 10 guaranteed games and then the rest is up to you guys as seniors,” Franklin said. “So that kind of hits home – it being the first true week. That we’ve only got 10 of these left and the rest depends on what we do during the rest of the season.”