And then there was one.
After three rounds of this year's Ohio high school football playoffs, only one team from the northwest corner of the state remains in contention for a state championship.
The top-ranked Liberty Center Tigers (13-0) have more postseason experience than any other area program - 19-6 in eight appearances - and they will need to call on all of that and more tonight at 7 when they face a huge challenge in fourth-ranked Bedford St. Peter Chanel (12-1) in a Division V state semifinal at Tiffin's Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
Chanel, which plays in the North Coast League in the Cleveland area, has defeated one Division I, two Division II, two Division III, three Division IV and four Division V schools this season, outscoring its 13 opponents 458-117. The Firebirds' only loss was a 23-0 shutout against Avon Lake, a Division II playoff team.
Tonight's winner earns a spot in next Saturday's state championship game at Massillon's Paul Brown Tiger Stadium at 3:30 p.m. against the winner of the other semifinal, which pits defending champion Amanda-Clearcreek (10-3) and Reading (11-2).
The Firebird program has undergone a metamorphosis under fourth-year head coach Jeff Rotsky, a Cleveland-area stockbroker who has a passion for football and brought it to Chanel after spending two years turning around the program at Cleveland South High School.
Chanel, which suffered through a 48-game losing streak in the early 1990s, had won only 12 games in nine years before Rotsky took over. The year before he arrived the program had 38 players. Now it has 85.
The Birds went 1-9 in 1997, the same season Liberty Center beat Amanda-Clearcreek 49-8 to win its only state championship. Chanel rose to 6-4 in '98, and last year jumped to 13-0 before losing to Amanda-Clearcreek 49-26 in the state semifinals.
“It's the kids,” Rotsky said of the Chanel success story. “They play the game. They just needed somebody to give them an identity. Our motto is GFGF, and that stands for God, Family, Grades and Football, and that doesn't include girlfriends or goofing around.
“We've tried to establish some camaraderie, and we've made a big commitment to the weight room.”
Rotsky, 34, played at nearby Beachwood High School before continuing his career as a player and later assistant coach at Case Western University. With his family established and his career well in order, it was time six years ago to return to football.
This year's version of the Firebirds is bigger, faster and stronger than last year's, according to Rotsky, whose team has pointed toward a potential rematch with Amanda-Clearcreek all season.
“There's that old saying that `speed kills,' and we can run. Our big kids can run too. We have a wide-open offense. We'll run or pass. We take what you give us.”
On the offensive line the Firebirds use a center, two tackles and a four-guard rotation that averages 6-11/2 and 254 pounds.
The backfield features 5-11, 175-pound junior back Tony Franklin (106 carries, 1,270 yards, 17 touchdowns), 6-2, 190-pound senior Darrick Bell (114 carries, 904 yards, 16 TDs), 6-0, 240-pound senior Ron Johnson (87 carries, 571 yards, 9 TDs) and 5-9, 160-pound quarterback Kyle Moriarity (81 of 146 passing, 1,346 yards, 10 TDs), whose top target is senior Dontez Sanders (29 catches, 711 yards, 6 TDs), the brother of Ohio State's Darnell Sanders.
MORRIS ALL-STATE: Chris Morris of Bedford was named to the Class A, AA all-state team in Michigan. Morris is a 6-5, 283-pound senior lineman.