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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

Ready for kickoff

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Many teams are still working out the kinks in their offensive and defensive schemes, and some are still deciding on what player combinations to put on the field.

But ready or not, the 2003 high school football season begins tonight, and there are several interesting non-league matchups right out of the gate.

At Rogers, City League preseason favorite St. John's Jesuit (7-4 last season) hosts last season's Great Lakes League champion and Division I state playoff semifinalist, Findlay (12-2).

This game features a clash in styles, as second-year Titan head coach Doug Pearson prefers the smash-mouth approach, which happens to suit his personnel, and Findlay's Cliff “Air'' Hite just plain loves the no-huddle spread offense out of the shotgun formation with all the bells and whistles.

The Trojans, physically overmatched in the 2002 semifinals against eventual state champion Cincinnati Elder, nonetheless were dynamite in a 34-31 defeat. Although All-Blade quarterback Kyle Johann, a superb passer, has graduated, Findlay looks to be on course for another solid season in the new Greater Buckeye Conference.

St. John's is a little banged up from two-a-days, and was depleted by one key transfer and some potential starters who are not playing this season.

Another prime week-one battle has Northwest Ohio Athletic League-favorite Liberty Center (7-3) traveling to Tinora to face a Rams squad that went 10-1 last season and is picked to repeat its Green Meadows Conference championship. The Rams rallied to top the Tigers 34-32 in last season's opener.

City League newcomer Whitmer, picked to place second in the league, takes its act on the road to Tiffin to face defending Northern Ohio League champion Columbian (9-2), which lost a 32-31 heartbreaker to a strong (10-2) Central Catholic team in the first round of last year's playoffs.

Whitmer should have great offensive balance with two-time 1,000-yard rusher Edwin Hood back along with promising junior quarterback J.J. Fought. They are two of nine Panthers starters returning on offense.

Fred Davis, one of the nation's top college prospects at wide receiver, is expected to have a banner season, provided he stays healthy.

Tonight it is host Springfield that will take the first turn in trying to neutralize the Rams' multi-dimensional scoring threat. Rogers coach Rick Rios plans to use Davis as a receiver, a running back and a kickoff and punt-returner, and the 6-4, 215-pound speedster is also a weapon at strong safety.

Over at Start High, the Spartans (6-5) face a huge test in their season opener against Marion Harding (7-4), which lost in the first round of last year's playoffs. But the Presidents return 34 senior letter winners from that squad and should be Findlay's chief competition for a GBC title.

Two-time defending City League champion St. Francis de Sales (12-2) graduated starters at 20 of 22 starting positions from teams that won a Division II state title in 2001 and reached the state semifinals last year. The rebuilding/reloading Knights open tonight at Perrysburg, which hopes to rebound from a disappointing 2-8 campaign.

Anthony Wayne (5-5) expects to contend for the Northern Lakes League crown, and the Generals should get a good idea of their progress tonight at perennial Sandusky Bay Conference-power Margaretta (10-3).

Some other noteworthy first-week, rivalry-oriented tests include the annual Wood County clash between Bowling Green (2-8) and Otsego (7-3); the battle for the Celestial Ball between the Genoa Comets (7-3) and the Oak Harbor Rockets (10-2), and the long-standing matchup of neighboring county seats between Defiance (5-5) and Napoleon (9-2). The Wildcats nipped Defiance 3-0 at home in last year's traditional first game and later qualified for the Division III playoffs.

Intriguing opening games continue tomorrow night when Archbold (10-3) travels to Sylvania to face what promises to be a vastly improved squad from Southview (5-5), which is triggered by one of the area's top quarterbacks in Kelley Rowe.

The Blue Streaks, who reached the Division IV regional finals last year, clipped Southview 33-23 at home in last year's opener.

Tonight's game between Cardinal Stritch and North Baltimore, scheduled to be played at Northwood, has been moved to North Baltimore, at 7:30.



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