BELLAIRE - Both Jose Davis and Phil Pest are encouraged by the progress their football teams have made during the early portion of the season.
The Bellaire Big Reds have won all three of their outings, while the Buckeye Local Panthers have claimed two straight since dropping their opener at Utica.
The big question coming into their 12:30 p.m. encounter Saturday at Nelson Field is what's going to give?
The Big Reds pulled off that miracle rally in Week 1 at Steubenville Central and have since cruised to victories over winless John Marshall and East Liverpool squads to reach 3-0.
"Obviously, you can't complain about being 3-0 because certainly every team would like to be in this position," Davis said. "But, we realize we've got a long way to go and a lot of improvement still to be made as we head into the meat of our schedule."
The Panthers, meanwhile, were beaten soundly (45-20) at Utica. However, they've bounced back with wins against winless Westinghouse and John Marshall the last two weeks to enter league play on a bit of a roll.
"After that initial game, we've been playing much better as a team, especially defensively," said Pest, the Panthers' rookie head coach. "Getting a couple of wins has certainly helped the morale of our kids. We've practiced better and things are falling into place for us."
That Panthers' defense will certainly be tested by the high-powered Big Reds' offense, which has showed the ability to be highly versatile.
"We've talked about the fact that most teams are going to play us for the pass," Davis said. "At the end of the day, we need to be balanced. We've been working on that and I thought we did a nice job last week of taking what (East Liverpool) was giving us. We'll do what we feel we have to do to give us the best chance to win the game."
Riding the powerful right arm of talented junior quarterback Spencer Badia was been the recipe for the most part this season. He's completed 61-of-111 passes for 789 yards and eight touchdowns.
"I feel Bellaire has probably the best quarterback in the Buckeye 8," Pest said.
"It's going to be a challenge to stop him. We're going to need some long possessions to keep their offense off the field as best we can."
Badia's top target has been junior Nick Patrone. He's made 25 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Quinton Crosby (8-120-2td), Kenny Hess (10-123-td), Nick Maffe (7-75) and Hunter Westlake (5-86-2td) are also reliable targets for the Big Reds.
On the ground, Maffe is the leading rusher with 208 yards and three scores on 32 carries.
"Bellaire makes you defend the entire field," Pest said. "Their kids are quick and they do a good job of getting them into the open field to make plays. Every game is going to be a challenge in this league and playing away on a Saturday afternoon is a different challenge because it breaks routine."
The Panthers' offense made the most of its few opportunities last weekend as John Marshall dominated the time of possession. Nathan Kirk has assumed the controls at quarterback for the Panthers. He's passed for 160 yards and three touchdowns this season. His top targets are Shane Duncan (5-140-2td) and Andy Stock (5-54-td).
The ground game has received a boost with the return of the speedy Stock. Austin Marshall is the top rusher for the Panthers with 201 yards and a touchdown.
"We're going to have to bring our 'A' game because Buckeye has several good athletes," Davis said. "We expect this to be a battle the entire day. It's going to come down to who executes the best and gets the defensive stops."