Rematch is the theme in northwest Ohio as the second round of the state football playoffs kicks off Friday night.
Whitmer (11-0) looks to avoid some déjà vu from two years ago, when the second-ranked Panthers face Lewis Center Olentangy (8-3) at Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin.
On that same field on Nov. 14, 2015, the Braves tied Whitmer, 21-21, with a fourth-quarter touchdown, stopped the Panthers from scoring three times from the 1-yard line, then drove 64 yards to set up Jacob Bell’s game-winning 52-yard field goal as time expired.
As if that weren’t bad enough, on the winning kick, the ball bounced through off the left upright.
“Heartbreaking. Flat-out heartbreaking,” the Panthers’ Jerry Bell said after the end of what would be his final game as Whitmer’s head coach.
“It hurt more than other playoff losses because we were playing some really good football at the time,” said current Whitmer head coach Ken Winters, who then was a Panthers assistant. “Our expectation for that team was to make it a lot farther than they did.
VIDEO: Whitmer-Olentangy preview
“Our seniors now were sophomores then and definitely have not forgotten the emptiness they felt that night. They don’t want to feel that way again, and will definitely use it as motivation.”
Heartbroken also was the way current Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer would feel about the closing moments of his final high school game for Central Catholic on Nov. 22, 2013.
That night, the Fighting Irish, who had won a Division II state championship a year earlier, were playing a Division III regional final at Bowling Green’s Doyt Perry Stadium against heavy underdog Clyde, the alma mater of Kizer’s mother, Mindy.
With 3 minutes, 27 seconds left, Fliers quarterback Tim Hoppe burned Central on a 74-yard touchdown pass to Derek Gray, and the extra point put Clyde ahead 42-41.
Kizer, and the Irish ground game, drove Central into position for a potential game-winning score in the final minute. But Kizer, who had carried five yards to the Clyde 4 on third-and-7, was hit while twisting to gain more yardage.
The then-Notre Dame-bound senior quarterback lost a fumble, and the Fliers ran out the clock on their upset.
Although the Irish would beat Clyde 35-3 in the 2014 regional final en route to another state title, and top the Fliers 35-25 in a second-round game in 2015, the sting of that 2013 upset still is felt on Cherry Street.
“Every loss is tough on your entire program, especially when it is a loss to end your season,” Irish coach Greg Dempsey said. “It motivated our younger players the entire offseason because they thought we were going farther in the playoffs that year.
“It is definitely something we have discussed with our players this week. They are well aware of how good a team and program we are facing this week.”
Central would win the D-III state title in 2014 by beating Athens, 56-52, in arguably the greatest Ohio title game ever played. The Irish were D-III state runners-up in 2015, and advanced to a state semifinal last year.
Friday’s playoff matchup at Clay will be the fourth postseason meeting between Central (9-2) and Clyde (9-2) in five years.
In Division V, Otsego (9-2) looks for redemption after absorbing a 39-0 pounding at home Oct. 6 at the hands of top-ranked Eastwood (11-0). The Northern Buckeye Conference’s champion and runner-up meet again at the home field of league member Lake.
“We could not move the ball on offense in the first half and, defensively, we did not play physical and fast for four quarters," Otsego coach Matt Dzierwa said of that loss. “Eastwood has tremendous team speed on both sides of the ball."
What can the Knights do to have a chance at an upset?
“On offense, we need to consistently get first downs and protect the quarterback,” Dzierwa said. “On defense, we need to tackle better and contain their running backs. Also, we need to be solid on special teams.”
First-year Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford knows beating Otsego again won’t be an easy task.
“Otsego's skill players on offense are extremely talented and, even though the line is young, they've played together for 11 weeks now,” Rutherford said. “The offense is capable of hitting big plays, but they also don't mind driving the football.
“Otsego's defense is physical. They have played really well the past couple of weeks.”
In Division VI, in another rematch, Blanchard Valley Conference co-champion Liberty-Benton (10-1) looks to avenge a postseason loss from six years ago when the Eagles take on Green Meadows Conference champion Hicksville (9-2) at Defiance High School.
In 2011, Hicksville topped L-B 20-13 in a Division V second-round game on the way to the best playoff run in Hicksville’s history. The Aces reached a state semifinal that year.
There is BVC rematch in Division VII, where 10th-ranked and conference co-champion McComb (9-2) bids for a second 2017 win against Pandora-Gilboa (9-2), which lost 49-27 at McComb on Oct. 20.
The only postseason game involving area teams that are not past playoff combatants or from the same league is the Division V game between ninth-ranked Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Archbold (9-2) and sixth-ranked Marion Pleasant (9-1) at Findlay’s Donnell Stadium.
It is, however, a battle of two past state champions.
Archbold won the 1998 D-V state title under former coach John Downey, who also led the Blue Streaks to a runner-up finish in 1982. Pleasant is a three-time state champion (1972, 1996, 2002), and was state runner-up in 2001.
With their perceived potential nemesis having been upset in last week’s second round of the Michigan Division 8 playoffs, second-ranked Whiteford (11-0), champions of the Tri-County Conference, still are looking no further than Saturday’s 1 p.m. third-round home game against Clarkston Everest Collegiate (9-2).
Last season, the Bobcats lost to perennial small-school Michigan power Muskegon Catholic Central 35-6 in the D-8 state championship game in Ford Field in Detroit. That was Muskegon CC’s fourth straight D-8 state title.
But last week, third-ranked Mendon snapped the top-ranked Crusaders’ 21-game playoff winning streak by beating CC 26-15.
“We have a great group of talented kids and community that supports our staff,” Whiteford coach Jason Mensing said of concentrating on the immediate task at hand. “On top of that, we have focused on improvement in fundamentals and continual improvement. We believe these are the traits that are important in all fields of life.
“We are going to have to execute very well in all three phases to get the win. We have to win the line of scrimmage and secure the football offensively. Defensively, we have to have a great game with open-space tackling. And, our special teams have to lead in return yardage and hopefully gain an extra possession on a kickoff.”
If Whiteford wins, it would face the Mendon/Climax-Scotts winner in next week’s state semifinals. Climax-Scotts is ranked ninth in D-8.
Speaking in clichés, you could say coach Ryan Love’s Blissfield’s Royals (7-4) are “playing with house money” or “have nothing to lose” heading into their Division 6 third-round matchup against eighth-ranked Warren Michigan Collegiate (11-0) at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights.
But according to Love, the Royals are taking an alternate mental approach.
“Our kids have treated this as a fresh start,” Love said of his team, which squeaked into the playoffs despite a 5-4 regular-season record. “We have approached this postseason as if we are 0-0. The heart and attitudes of our kids have been the key to getting this far.
“This was a goal of our team. Our kids have felt that we do belong, and are seizing the opportunity given to them. We must be able to stop the run. They have a football team that is dedicated to the run. We must also run the football to be successful.”
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.