NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The OHSAA high school football playoffs kickoff Friday night with qualifiers in Divisions I, II, IV and VI seeing first round action. Two ITCL teams from Division VI in Springfield and Lisbon will get to challenge themselves and see how far they can go.
The Tigers enter the playoffs as the #2 seed in region 21, allowing them to host the first round game Friday night against the Columbia Raiders (8-2).
“We played East Palestine in week 8, which was our last home game and senior night. We were 5-2 at the time, and our kids realized that could be the last time we might end up playing at home. We had a great crowd there. Our community and fan base has supported us. So right now, our kids are excited to be able to have an extra home game, which a lot of people don’t get to do. They can’t wait to play Friday,” Tigers coach Sean Guerriero said.
Although the Tigers sit as the second seed in the region, it didn’t look like they would be in such a advantageous position back seven weeks ago. Following a season opening win over Brookfield, the Tigers dropped two consecutive games to McDonald and Cuyahoga Heights to start the season 1-2. But from that point, the Tigers have reeled off seven consecutive wins to both capture the last ITCL title, but also clinch a home playoff birth.
“Going into our scrimmages we had a couple early injuries. I think it actually made us better in the long run because we built some depth,” Guerrier said of the tough start. “As we got healthier, we got better as an offense and defense and kept improving every week. And once you see result against Western Reserve, South Range, when you beat programs like that our kids started buying in to see what we could do.”
“Early in the season I thought we had potential to be a pretty good football team. I give the credit to our senior group. I think our senior kids are exceptional. They want to win, they care and they practice hard,” Guerriero added.
With Columbia, the Tigers will need to continue to play championship caliber football as the Raiders present some tough challenges.
“They have some good sized bodies up front, and they have some special linebackers who can run to the football. They’re 8-2, any team you face at this point is going to be good,” Guerriero remarked.
“Offensively they focus on running the ball. They have killed teams with the play action pass. So for us we just have to play solid football. So if we can control the ball it will benefit us to keep those guys off the field. They are a good all-around team, they don’t make many mistakes,” Guerriero added. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge for us.”
LISBON AT ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
Unlike Springfield, the Lisbon Blue Devils will need to travel to the Canton area Friday night to take on the fourth seeded St. Thomas Aquinas Knights (8-2). This marks the second year in a row that the Devils have advanced to the playoffs in Division VI. Last year, the Devils lost to the Brookfield Warriors 39-28 at home.
“I told the team Friday night, that last year we were just happy to be playing in week 11. That this year, lets make a run by using last years experience,” Devils Coach Jim Tsilimos said. “This is no excuse because its part of the game, but last year we went into the Brookfield game with Jason Thompson and Dougie Minor injured.”
This year, the Devils are relatively healthy as both Thompson and Minor have combined for over 1,100 yards and 21 touchdowns. Add in fullback Cameron Summers’ 1,000 yards and 9 scores and the Devils will bring all their offensive weapons for this first-round contest.
The Knights however, bring a very athletic team with experience in big games as they have beaten playoff teams Canton Central Catholic and Crestwood, while losing to Division III Marlington 20-17 and Warren JFK last week in overtime 28-27.
“St. Thomas has great size and are very athletic. On defense, we will have to be great tacklers and be very physical. We cannot allow their running back #26 (Nathan Rich) any creases or seams. On offense, we need to continue what we have done the last 10 weeks, averaging 4 yards a play, that’s our goal. We need to run the clock,” Tsilimos said.
JUST MISSING PLAYOFFS
The Columbiana Clippers fell just one point behind Hillsdale for the final playoff spot in region 21. The Clippers looked to be a sure bet for the playoffs back in week 6 with a 5-1 record, but losses to Springfield and Lisbon in consecutive weeks put their prospects in jeopardy.
“Very disappointing! Especially as we look back Crestview by 3, Springfield 1 point, need one play, catch and block PAT correctly, and Lisbon inside red zone four times, score once. Very tough! But that’s football so we need one win or our opponents to win one more game,” Clippers Coach Bob Spaite said..