It didn’t take long for Dan Haverkamp to start hearing about the significance of Fenwick High School’s football rivalry with Alter.
“I think probably within my first hour in the building, I had somebody come up to me and say, ‘Hey, beat Alter,’ ” said Haverkamp, in his first season at the Falcons’ helm. “So I know what it means to the people in the community, and the players have had very strong focus this week.”
Fenwick and Alter are set for a Greater Catholic League Coed North Division clash on Friday night at Centerville in what is the final season of North competition. Next year, the GCLC will be one six-team division.
WEEK 5 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
The Falcons are 3-1 with a 21-18 loss to Clinton-Massie. The Knights are 3-1 with a 12-6 loss to Fairmont.
“Our guys know what it means for our quest to win a GCL title,” Haverkamp said. “The reality is that for the last decade or so, the GCL North title has gone through Alter, so if we want to wrestle it away from them, it’s got to happen this week.”
Alter has won 15 of the last 16 North championships, sharing the crown with Roger Bacon in 2005 and Fenwick in 2012. The Falcons were outright champions in 2015.
The current Fenwick seniors were freshmen when the Falcons defeated Alter twice in 2015.
“I think it helps having that memory and knowing that, ‘Hey, this team isn’t the Cincinnati Bengals. We’re able to beat them,’ ” Haverkamp said. “We know how to beat them. It’s going out and executing and playing to the best of our ability. And we know we’re going to have to play to the best of our ability to beat them.”
Said Fenwick senior wide receiver Thomas Vogelsang, “This is the seniors’ time. We’ve been looking forward to this one all year. Our guys are ready.”
Friday will be homecoming for the Knights and veteran coach Ed Domsitz, whose team is coming off a 49-14 win over Bacon.
“I will give our kids credit. All four ballgames so far, when the whistle blows, they’ve come ready to play,” Domsitz said. “We’ll see if we can keep that up. That’s the real challenge every year … can you be ready to play 10 weeks? The teams that are ready to play all 10 weeks are going to win their share of games and probably get to the playoffs.
“We’re 3-1 and that’s a nice record, but you don’t get any awards for the first four weeks. There’s a lot of work left to be done. I’m sure Fenwick feels the same way. I think there are a lot of similarities between the two teams.”
Senior John Bivens was expected to be the star runner for Alter this year, but a knee injury and nerve damage have kept him on the sideline all year. Domsitz said he’s not likely to play in 2018.
Both teams would prefer to run the ball, yet both have big-play capability in the passing game with quarterbacks Sully Janeck (of Fenwick) and Connor Bazelak (of Alter).
The Knights have had a huge shift in offensive emphasis in the last two weeks. In Game 3 against Centerville, the University of Missouri-bound Bazelak threw 49 passes. Against Bacon, Alter rushed for nearly 600 yards and got a 25-carry, 344-yard effort from sophomore halfback Branden McDonald.
“I’m not really interested in whether our offense is balanced. I think that’s a very overrated concern and statistic,” Domsitz said. “What I’m concerned about is trying to move the football and put it in the end zone. I’ve always believed you pretty much stay with what’s working.”
Haverkamp said therein lies the challenge with preparing for the Knights’ offense.
“I guess my goal would be to keep them balanced so they’re not doing anything really well,” he said. “But we know that’s going to be a tall task.”
Alter’s defense allows 9.8 points per game and is led by senior Antwann Martin Jr., a strong safety/linebacker type that seems to be everywhere. Domsitz said senior Austin Helm has been a pleasant surprise at outside linebacker.
Janeck has converted 37-of-73 passes for 645 yards and seven touchdowns for the Falcons. Most of those completions have gone to Vogelsang (12 receptions, 258 yards, three TDs), R.J. Clesceri (eight receptions, 212 yards, three TDs) and Jordan Rucker (nine receptions, 117 yards, one TD).
“I’m a big proponent of taking advantage of defensive weaknesses and putting players in positions to be successful and taking advantage of their skill sets,” Haverkamp said. “We’ve got some players who are very capable of winning on the deep ball. Thomas is a great example of that. He’s tall. He’s got long arms. He’s fast enough to stretch the field vertically.
“We’re going to take our shots stretching the field vertically. We know even if we don’t necessarily complete it, that still has the opportunity to soften up the defense up a little bit and help our run game out.”
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Vogelsang totaled nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown as a junior.
“I didn’t have the greatest season, but this season I’m just looking to get open, trust Sully and make plays,” Vogelsang said.
What: Fenwick (3-1, 1-0 GCLC North) vs. Alter (3-1, 1-0 GCLC North) at Centerville, 7 p.m.
Where: Centerville Stadium, 500 E. Franklin St., Centerville
Series: Alter leads 11-3 and has won the last two meetings, including 46-22 in 2017