ANDERSON — John Broughton was musing about the reasons it took Pendleton Heights and Anderson so long to meet up on the football field.
Most of them can be traced to conference schedules.
For years, the Arabians opened with a pair of Hoosier Heritage Conference games. And those were the only two weeks the Indians had open before starting their North Central Conference schedule.
So Pendleton Heights played games against Madison Heights and Highland but never against the Tribe.
Until 2011, that is, when Anderson lost its grip on the inaugural contest with a fumble shortly before halftime and the Arabians stormed out of Collier Field with a 41-23 victory. Last year, Pendleton Heights won again — this time 44-21 at home — and Broughton can say he’s never lost a game against Anderson in his storied 38-year career.
Madison County’s newest rivalry has been pretty one-sided thus far. But that doesn’t mean the Arabians (1-0) are taking tonight’s third edition at Collier Field lightly.
“We’re ready for the challenge Anderson is going to give us,” Broughton said. “And we know they’re going to give us one.”
Neither team is coming into this game at full strength.
Anderson (0-1) lost star running back Jerian Beard and fullback Jarmeel Graves during an opening 61-27 loss at Fort Wayne Wayne last week.
Pendleton Heights, meanwhile, likely will be without three-fifths of its starting offensive line. Trey Green and Mason Loman will be sitting out for the second straight week, and Hunter Cook left during the first half of last week’s 33-0 dismantling of Muncie Central.
The Arabians rushed for more than 200 yards last week behind a three-back rotation of Chris Clemmons, Noah Etchison and Jim Arney.
Anderson could answer with a powerful tandem of its own if Beard is able to join Tyler Welch, who ran for 196 yards in Week 1, in the backfield. When healthy, the Indians’ skill position talent belies its slow start.
“We have to get better quick if we want to compete,” Tribe coach Randy Albano said. “But we’ve got the athletes that can turn it around if they just continue to work. Our kids will be up for Pendleton.”
Broughton is counting on it.
He has the more experienced squad, especially at quarterback where Jesse Furrow enters his second season as a starter and Anderson’s Gavin Owens is making his second varsity start.
But Broughton learned long ago to take nothing for granted. He’s seen the Indians’ athleticism on film and is nearly as wary of Welch as he would be of Beard.
“When you lose, you go back to practice and work harder,” he said. “They’re somebody we’ve got to contend with whether Beard’s there or not.”
Broughton gave defensive coordinator Tom Huth credit for putting together an outstanding game plan for last week’s shutout, and he believes that side of the ball again will be a key tonight.
On offense, he saw a few too many mistakes, particularly with blocking assignments. But there’s nothing wrong that can’t be fixed.
Albano, meanwhile, is concerned with turnovers. The Indians moved the football consistently against Wayne but often torpedoed their own drives by fumbling away the football.
So ball security will be one of the keys for Anderson.
But exposing the team’s weaknesses is part of why the Indians like their early schedule. Wayne offered an athletic and experienced team that provided a completely different look than the more physical Arabians will tonight.
And Albano believes both opponents will help prepare Anderson for the NCC season ahead.
“I think these two games can do nothing but help us,” he said. “Win or lose, they’re going to show us what it takes to be competitive.”
For Pendleton Heights, tonight’s game is about heading into HHC play on the right note.
Both teams have big conference games next week, with Anderson hosting Richmond and Pendleton Heights traveling to New Palestine.
But neither team can afford to look past the big game in front of it tonight.
“I look for a real scramble,” Broughton said. “I think it’s going to be a competitive game for four quarters. I think it’s going to be a game people want to see.”