Columbian back at home against 1-6 Shelby

Coming in at 1-6, Shelby won’t provide the stiffest test Columbian has faced this year, but Tornado coach Brian Colatruglio sees a Whippet team that’s improved every week as evidenced by its performances the last two Fridays.

Two weeks ago Shelby posted its only win of the season, topping Willard. Last week the Whippets put a scare into 5-2 Ontario, losing a tough 22-16 contest.

Erik Will is in his first year running Shelby’s program. Colatruglio says Shelby went through some growing pains in the early stages of the season, but may have finally found its identity.

“We have to continue our process and get better,” Colatruglio said. “Shelby is a team, record wise, obviously they’re struggling. New coach and you can tell they’re kind of struggling for an identity on offense. … They’ve struggled for a while with what they wanted to do offensively and honestly, they’ve played a lot better the last couple weeks. Last week against Ontario is probably the best game they’ve played. They ran a little more consistently. Defensively they’ve been pretty solid. They’re physical and they’re aggressive. I think we have a little bit of a speed advantage and that’s something we’ll have to take advantage of.

“We kind of have an idea what they’re going to do with some of their base stuff. But specifically, how they’re going to attack us, you’re never know until you actually face a guy. It’s always a little bit of an unknown going in against a new coach. I think he’s probably not real sure what we’re going to do either. The first matchup is always kind of a feeling out process.”

Columbian has pushed through its own early season growing pains. Entering the tail end of the regular season, the Tornado offense has finally seemed to hit its stride. A portion of that has to do with Donovan Walker.

In just two games, Walker has accounted for more than 560 yards of offense. Colatruglio said his abilities gives teams another headache when trying to figure out how to stop Columbian’s attack.

“It’s something else that teams have to prepare for,” Colatruglio said. “Not only can he make every throw, but he can make plays with his feet as well, and you have to account for him in the run game. It really opens things up for Ryan (Lynch) as well. Now we can spread people out and open up some run lanes if they’re afraid we can throw it. He’s made our passing game better and opened up our run game.

“He’s a leader. He’s somebody that the other guys look to and he has command of the huddle. He’s a senior, and that makes a big difference.”

Lynch has been a solid contributor all year for Columbian in the backfield, but credit for Columbian’s offensive surge also goes to the emergence of its wide receiver corps.

“That’s been part of our recent success as well,” Colatruglio said. “You can see Cody Kimmet and Russ Yeast kind of growing up and starting to make plays. Josh Flint, who’s never played before, is getting comfortable in our offense. Obviously, Nate (Hoyda) has been our go-to guy from the beginning, but the other guys are starting to catch up. Derek Dryfuse has made some real big plays for us in the passing game, too, the last few weeks. Part of it is having Donovan back there, but the other part of it is our younger, inexperienced guys getting more comfortable in what we’re doing.”

The increased offensive production has been a good compliment to a defense that has been stingy on opponents all season.

“Our defense has been our rock all year,” Colatruglio said. “They continue to keep teams out of the end zone and get us the ball back. Early in the year when we were struggling a little bit offensively, our defense really kept us in it. Now we’re starting to put some points on the board and it allows our defense to be aggressive. When you play with a lead, you can be aggressive and play a lot of kids which is a help as well.”

Kickoff is 7 p.m.