The Whitmer Panthers are one of only six Division I teams to enter the final week of the Ohio high school regular season with an unbeaten record, but they have yet to secure a championship in their first season in the City League.
To do that, coach Dan Fought's Panthers (9-0, 6-0 CL) must defeat preseason league favorite St. John's Jesuit (6-3, 5-1) tonight at Bowsher.
That's because the City League's point system - in place since the former (Blue and Red) divisional alignment was dissolved along with the closing of Macomber and DeVilbiss high schools in the early 1990s - gives two-time defending champion St. Francis de Sales (7-2, 5-1) and St. John's a shot at the title.
If St. John's were to beat Whitmer, the Panthers would finish with 30 points in the standings, and a win by St. Francis at the Glass Bowl tonight over Central Catholic (3-6, 2-4) would give the Knights the CL title with 34 points.
St. John's can gain the championship only if it beats Whitmer and St. Francis loses to Central, in which case the Titans would end with 31 points compared to 30 each for Whitmer and St. Francis. The Titans have the added incentive of needing a win to qualify for the Division I playoffs in Region 2. Whitmer has already clinched a playoff berth and a first-round home game in Region 2.
Clay (6-3, 5-1) can figure into a four-way tie for best won-lost record in the CL if it beats Bowsher at home tonight, and both St. Francis and St. John's win. But the best the Eagles can do in the point standings is 24.
“We're happy to be in this position,'' Fought said. ``We're trying to put ourselves in the Whitmer history books for the second unbeaten [regular season] finish, and we need to win to win the league. We also know it's a must win for St. John's.
“We don't have to say much to motivate our kids. They don't want to let it slip through their fingers. We want to continue to play the way we've played all year. The big key for us will be stepping up to meet the challenge.
“We know them and they know us. They want to control the football and the time of possession, and they're going to test our manhood early by playing smash-mouth football. They're a very intelligent team, and we have a lot of respect for their program.''
Whitmer is led offensively by senior running back Edwin “Petey'' Hood (1,425 rushing yards, 18 TDs), junior quarterback J.J. Fought (47 of 92, 735 passing yards, plus 55 rushes for 531 and 12 TDs) and a line anchored by center Brandon Ochmanek. The Panther defense is anchored by linebacker Greg Schermbeck, end Kyle Snyder and safety Kyle Andrews (seven interceptions).
“They're averaging 40 points (38.7) per game,'' Titan coach Doug Pearson said of his team's daunting task against Whitmer, “and they're so good that you can't focus on taking away one aspect of their game. You've got to have everybody doing their job and on the same page.
“We've got to be able to run the ball and tackle and have outstanding performances from everybody on defense. Also, they have one of the fastest and most aggressive defenses that we've seen all year.”
St. John's is led on offense by running back Dorian Milletti (190 carries, 1,065 yards), quarterback Mickey Cassidy (873 passing yards, 10 TDs) and 6-4, 284-pound guard Andrew Decker. The Titan defense is paced by nose guard Sam Kettinger, linebackers Austin Mayberry and Marcus Waugh, and free safety Cassidy (eight interceptions).