NEW MARTINSVILLE - Monroe Central coach Jay Circosta knows his team has played some quality opponents during the first five weeks of the season.
But if the Seminoles are to put themselves in a position to earn a playoff berth in Ohio Division V, Region 17, the veteran coach recognizes his team's performance the next three weeks will be crucial.
Monroe Central (4-1) finishes the campaign with a home game against Frontier and a road tilt at Buckeye Trail - teams heading into Friday with a combined record of 1-9.
So, if the Seminoles are to pick up a decent amount of points, they will need to be earned the next three weeks, where their opponents boast a combined 9-5 mark.
The first test comes at Alumni Field, where Monroe Central, winners of four straight, will tangle with Magnolia in a contest that always offers plenty of storylines.
The Blue Eagles (2-2) aren't close to the dominant squad that produced an undefeated West Virginia Class AA season last fall. But they're improving. And, with Coach Mark Batton's team coming off a bye week, Circosta said the records can be thrown out the window.
''They're a 2-2 team, but I think they're a lot better than that,'' Circosta said. ''They ran into some strong teams at the start of the year. That made it kind of difficult for them. They're definitely an improved team and they certainly have some weapons.''
The Blue Eagles always play a tough schedule, and with a team inexperienced in many areas, the first four games were filled with growing pains. But with the season at its midway point, Batton said inexperience isn't as much of a factor.
''These guys have had four games now,'' he said. ''Now, we consider them veterans and they've had a couple of nice games the past fee weeks.''
After opening the season with losses to perennial powers Wayne and Williamstown, the Blue Eagles bounced back with victories against Tyler Consolidated and River.
''We're just continuing to run the ball pretty well,'' he said. ''We'll continue to work on that and a lot of our blocking schemes. The guys are getting more comfortable.''
Running back Jayson Keller had a breakout game against the Silver Knights, and quarterback Tanner Hanna has quietly built a solid campaign. Throw in stellar wide out Stephen Rogalski, and the Blue Eagles have plenty of potential offensively.
''Hanna has stepped in for Justin Fox and done a nice job,'' Circosta said. ''He's capable of throwing the ball well.
''And Rogalski is a huge threat. So we need to contain those guys and not let them make too many plays. It will be a challenge for our defense.''
Monroe Central's defense has stepped up to the plate so far this season, allowing just 41 points and two shutouts, including last week's 32-0 victory against Fort Frye on a muddy track in Woodsfield.
The Seminoles offense is guided by veteran Tyler Kinchen, who rushed for 104 yards and threw for two touchdowns last week.
''They do what they do and they do it really well,'' Batton said. ''They run a lot of different formations and keep you mixed up.
''Kinchen does such a good job of running the offense and hiding the fakes. We always have to be aware of where he's at.''
Circosta said he's still waiting for a complete game from the unit.
''We've shown signs of running the ball well and we've showed signs of passing the ball well,'' he said. ''Hopefully, we can put all of those things together this week.''
Circosta has always been pleased with the maturation of his offensive line, which had just one returning starter at season's start. That player, C.J. Wise, moved to tackle.
''They've taken some big steps forward and regressed a little bit at times,'' he said. ''But we think we're definitely improving."
They have five games under their belt and they continue to get better.''