A football league of differing styles, philosophies and locations gets underway this weekend as the Eastern Cincinnati Conference begins play Friday night. Though not as publicized as the Greater Catholic League-South or Greater Miami Conference, the mix of Division I and II schools could play a part in November's OHSAA postseason.
The question is, which team will jump to the forefront?
Currently, Kings, Little Miami and Turpin are off to 2-0 starts. Winton Woods is 1-1 with a loss to 2020 state semifinalist and 2019 Division II champion La Salle. Anderson is 1-1 with an opening loss to Division I Princeton despite scoring 45 points. Milford coach Tom Grippa just picked up his 200th career win and is 1-1 and Walnut Hills is 1-1.
Though winless, Loveland has the No. 2 passer in the league in Luca Aquilino, Lebanon gave Winton Woods one of its tougher games in 2020 and West Clermont can give teams fits trying to defend their Wing-T run game.
Many questions will be answered after Friday's Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown game as last year's co-champions, the Winton Woods Warriors and Kings Knights, tangle in Forest Park.
"Really, there are no weeks off," Kings coach Alex Garvin said. "You can't look ahead. You can't think about what other teams are going to do against other teams. Right now, it's Winton Woods. We don't have time to look ahead or think about other opponents."
Kings has taken down back-to-back GMC foes in Middletown and Sycamore. Winton Woods shut out 2019 Division III champion Trotwood-Madison in week one, then lost to La Salle 21-7. The Lancers scored on four field goals, a safety and a pick six, so the Warriors' defense has still not given up an offensive touchdown.
"I've been around a little bit and I feel like it's a really good, competitive conference," first-year Winton Woods coach Chad Murphy said. "All of these schools are going to do what they're supposed to do and they're not going to beat themselves. We're going to have to bring our A-game every week. I couldn't be more excited for this game (Kings)."
Winton Woods knocked Kings out of the playoffs last season 20-10, though Kings was without top rusher Ty Stylski. This year junior quarterback Will Kocher is second in the ECC in rushing with 254 yards, followed by Max Sannella with 199.
The Winton Woods defense has senior sack leader Jayden Denton (3) and ever-present linebacker Seven Blue chasing the ball for new defensive coordinator Carlton Gray.
Never to be ignored is Turpin with opening wins over Oak Hills of the GMC and a 35-7 road triumph at Dublin Coffman. Senior Keenan Alcaide tops ECC rushers with 296 yards, senior Will Schulock is third in passing and 6-foot-4-inch senior Ryan McDole leads in pass-catching with 20 for 342 yards.
"For Division II, Division I football, it's some of the best around," Turpin coach Kent McCullough said of the ECC talent. "We just try to keep people off balance and whatever they're going to give us, we're going to take. A lot of credit goes to our offensive line. Typical of Turpin, if we can stay healthy, we can be there in the end."
After a 3-7 season in 2020, Caleb Jones's Little Miami Panthers are 2-0 after having scored 71 total points in two games against Goshen and Talawanda. Little Miami faces Anderson Friday. A year ago that was a 50-40 win for Anderson.
"Everybody in the league is a difficult opponent," Jones said. "In Region 8 and Region 4, a lot of teams make the playoffs, so we can't take anything for granted.
Little Miami has the league's fourth-leading passer in Aidan Jones, who has thrown for 420 yards and four touchdowns. Fellow senior Ashton Middlekamp has 166 yards rushing. Defensively, Nick Greenwell, Michael Cornett and Ethan Dowden are among the sack leaders.
"Goshen was a wishbone style (offense) and Talawanda was a veer," Jones said. "Now it's a five-wide (Anderson). It's a gambit for us every week."
Anderson at 1-1 has 74 points in two games and boasts the ECC-leading passer in Griffin Scalf with 722 yards. Receivers Joey Faulkner and Evan Upchurch have more than 500 yards in receptions combined. After scoring 45 in their opening loss to Princeton, the Raptors held off a run-oriented Clinton-Massie squad 29-22 last weekend.
"Nobody really knows how good we are as a conference yet," Anderson coach Evan Dreyer said. "Everybody's trying to figure out where they fit in. There's a lot of opinions and not a lot of data yet. Nobody knows how good anyone is until we kick it off Friday night."
The ECC does have one football state champion as Loveland triumphed in Division II in 2013 with a perfect 15-0 season. In terms of league championships, Turpin leads the pack having won or shared four, Kings has three with Winton Woods, Milford, West Clermont, Loveland and Anderson one apiece. (Note: 2020 was the first year for Winton Woods in the league.)
Looking at the schedule, it appears October could prove interesting for someone as there may be several make-or-break games. Among those to watch:
- Oct. 1 Winton Woods at Anderson
- Oct. 8 Winton Woods at Turpin
- Oct. 15 Turpin at Kings
- Oct. 22 Anderson at Turpin
- Oct. 22 Kings at Little Miami
"This conference is loaded with fantastic coaches and a good tradition of schools," Garvin of Kings said. "You get a lot of coaches that get into this conference and want to create an offense that's dynamic. You face a team like Winton Woods that has guys up front that are much bigger and much stronger. You play a team like Anderson and they're going to throw the ball around and you have to have a defense ready for that. You face Turpin, who for years has been strong running the ball, a very zone-heavy team. It's a great challenge. Our coaches are put to the test every week."