FRANKTON, Ind. — After 29 seasons, tonight will be Frankton football coach Otis Cress’ final homecoming on the sideline.
The venerable head coach is hanging up his headset at the end of the year, even if the finality of it all still has yet to hit him.
“There are a lot of things that haven’t sunk in yet,” Cress said. “I’ve been there for a lot of years, and I guess this is my last homecoming as a head coach.”
It comes opposite a Madison County rival against whom the Eagles (1-4, 0-3 Central Indiana Conference) have enjoyed some recent success. Alexandria (3-2, 1-2) has lost seven of the past eight meetings in the series, including the last two.
But the Tigers still are mathematically alive in the league title chase, and they’ve been playing good football of late. Alexandria upset then-unbeaten Mississinewa two weeks ago and took Class 2A Oak Hill to overtime in a loss last Friday.
Those performances came on the heels of a 62-8 loss at Eastbrook to open the conference season.
“I’m really happy with how we’re competing,” Alexandria coach Pete Gast said. “But, more importantly, I’m happy with how we bounced back from that Eastbrook game. We were kind of at a crossroads after that game. We were doubting ourselves, wondering if we’d improved as much as we thought we had.”
The next two weeks answered that question and proved the Tigers can compete with any team left on their schedule.
Frankton, meanwhile, has lost four straight after a season-opening victory against Anderson Prep. But the Eagles could be inspired by the rivalry game and all the trappings attached with homecoming.
Frankton is expecting a good crowd, and that could help turn the tide as well.
“We hope so,” Cress said when asked if his team is ready to rise to the challenge. “We’re young and inexperienced. But all we’ve asked the kids is to give their best effort and try to play a little more physical than we have been, do a better job tackling and hopefully we can at least slow them down.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Alexandria found itself in the same position. The Tigers have grown alongside Gast over the past five seasons, and the program has nine returning starters on both offense and defense this fall.
Success has mostly centered around the offense. Alexandria is averaging 39.3 points in its three wins and 7.5 points in its two losses.
Junior quarterback Blaize Kelly is the triggerman, completing 53 percent of his passes for 898 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
There are few secrets with these two schools, with a high degree of familiarity between most of the coaches and players.
“Our kids get up for this game,” Cress said. “And it always seems to be a close game.”
Alexandria hopes its just part of a strong finish.
The Tigers are aiming for a winning record and dreaming of the possibilities in their new sectional alignment. Frankton also is part of a Madison County-heavy Class 2A Sectional 36 along with Lapel, Elwood and Madison-Grant. Oak Hill, Eastern and Bluffton round out the eight-team field.
“Something we’ve never really experienced is sectional success,” Gast said. “We plan on having the opportunity to play into November. It would be nice to have some success in the postseason.”