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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

2004 High School Football: Top 10 Stadiums, Bands, Leagues, Teams

1. Waite s Mollenkopf Stadium, named after Hall-of-Fame coach Jack Mollenkopf, is a true Toledo jewel. Nestled on the east side adjacent to the school s scenic 90-year-old campus, the 70-year-old, concrete-enclosed facility was constructed during the Great Depression as a WPA project, and certainly saw its greatest games, and crowds, during Waite s glory days in the 1930s and 1940s, when the Tribe was an Ohio power. Adding to the aging beauty of this 7,000-plus-seat stadium is ivy on the inner walls, a serviceable scoreboard and a row of tall and mature pine trees behind one end zone. 2. Donnell Stadium in Findlay is not located on the high school campus and is shared with the University of Findlay, so it loses some points here. But it rivals Waite s beauty and is more a 1-A choice with Mollenkopf than a No. 2.

3. Columbian also shares its Frost-Kalnow stadium with college teams Heidleberg and Tiffin, but sits in a scenic position adjacent to and just beneath the high school. Its synthetic surface cost over $800,000 and, although it had to be redone, is the best all-weather playing field among area high schools. Another scenic feature is a modern electronic scoreboard, and the press box has improved in recent years to make it a better playoff venue.

4. Fremont Ross s Harmon Stadium produces a Mollenkopf-like historic feel neatly tucked in a neighborhood setting not far from the high school. Its seating capacity is plus.

The stadiums at Clay, Napoleon, Whitmer, Defiance, Oak Harbor and Liberty Center all possess unique qualities that speak to the character of their schools and are Friday night fall fixtures in their communities. Fostoria could also fit this group.

Defiance and Anthony Wayne are mentioned in the same breath as the clear-cut best over the past 10 years, and probably should have tied here. But we had to pick one, so Defiance got the nod.

The Marching Bulldogs are 190 strong, including 168 musicians. Styled as a show band, they play a different routine at each home game. This group has made trips to the Rose Bowl and this year will march in the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The AW Marching Generals typically feature about 130 members and are arguably the best precision marchers in the area.

Numbers had much to do with the rest of the choices. Obviously the Northern Lakes League produces the most top bands with four mentions here: AW, Perrysburg, Northview and Maumee.

Liberty Center s performance belies its size, and the Marching Tigers traditional rendition of the Beach Boys Barbara Ann is worth the price of admission.

Scott s Marching Bulldogs stand out with their creative march and dance skills. New member Clay is a breath of fresh air to a City League almost void of substantial marching bands, and Woodmore does a lot for a little school.

Aside from that, hey, what do we know about bands?

Leagues with 3 or more teams in Blade circulation area. Rated by annual top-to-bottom league strength, playoff appearances, postseason performance and competitive parity.

The SBC has everything you would want -- good balance, few patsies, and success spread among several schools. The eight teams have combined for an area-best 23 playoff appearances in the last 10 years, including state titles by Clyde (1995) and Sandusky Perkins (1999), a state runner-up finish by Clyde (1994), and two other semifinalists.

The NWOAL is a close second with a strong annual top-to-bottom competitive mix that has produced 18 playoffs qualifiers, a state title by Liberty Center (1997), a runner-up by Liberty (1998), and three state semifinal finishes. Also, Wauseon (1993) and Archbold (1988) each won state titles within a few years of our defined 1994-2003 period.

Hardin Northern has posted nine of the BVC s 22 total playoff appearances, and its 2002 D-VI runner-up finishes comes with two other semifinal advancements. Six different schools have reached the postseason in the last 10 years.

The City League is better at the top with St. Francis, St. John s, Central Catholic and now Whitmer in the mix, but the NLL gets the nod because it is deeper top-to-bottom, and holds a solid head-to-head edge over CL teams in recent years.

1. Only a boggled last-second field-goal attempt which turned into a Massillon Jackson touchdown pass and an 18-13 early-season win for Jackson prevented the 2001 St. Francis Knights from a perfect 14-0 slate.

Led by dynamic tailback/safety Rodney Gamby, who transferred in from Bedford High in Michigan that year, plus a defense that was downright oppressive, the Knights rolled into the playoffs and then through them with only one serious threat along the way.

Along with Gamby s 2,409 rushing yards, 31 TDs and vicious hits on defense, three junior standouts who also received All-Ohio honors helped anchor the defense, offensive lineman Andrew Stanford, linebacker John Lonchyna and defensive end Steve Fender.

St. Francis outscored foes 32.2 to 9.5 per game, and overcame an upset bid in the semifinals from Green, taking a 22-19 win with a late TD. The Knight then beat Columbus Watterson 28-14 in the finals.

2. The 1997 Defiance Bulldogs, led by All-Ohio linebacker Tom Ward, veteran QB Joe Williamson and talented running back Larry Hartzell, finished 14-0, and its defense produced five shutouts on the way to clobbering Uniontown Lake 36-10 in the D-II state final. Coach Jerry Buti s agile and rugged squad had only one serious challenge, a 28-20 win over Lebanon in the semifinals. They outscored foes 34.6 to 7.8 per game.

3. Fostoria gave coach Dick Kidwell a proper sendoff in 1996 with a D-II state championship, adding to the state title the Redmen won in 1991. Led by All-Ohioan Richard Newsome, a two-way star, Fostoria (13-1) outscored foes 29.4 to 9.4 per game. The only loss came against St. John s (29-8), a 9-2 D-I playoff team that year. The Redmen capped things with a 14-6 title-game win over Akron Buchtel.

4. Liberty Center used a bitter 46-44 loss to arch-rival Patrick Henry in 1997 as the rocket fuel for its first state title. Almost a non-qualifier for the playoffs, the Tigers only got in because they got a higher computer average from an open week than they would have from beating a depleted, 0-9 Ottawa Hills team, which cancelled their game with LC. Coach Rex Lingruen s team made the most of this break, beating defending state-champion Marion Pleasant 21-19 in the playoff opener, avenging the PH loss by pounding the Pats 40-14 in the second round, and then romped to the D-V title with easy wins over Apple Creek Waynedale (44-8) and Amanda-Clearcreek (49-8). The Tigers outscored foes 41.6 to 16.2 per game.

5. Clyde was paced by two-way junior star Chad Long in its 1995 D-III state championship run. He carried the mail in the backfield, and was a tough-as-nails tackler in the secondary whose 14 interceptions forced opponents to stop throwing his way. The Fliers, who avenged a regular-season 21-14 Sandusky Bay Conference loss to Oak Harbor with a 10-7 second-round playoff win in the snow at Waite, edged Chagrin Falls Kenston 3-0 in the lowest-scoring state final in Ohio history. Clyde topped foes by a modest 19.4 to 7.1 per game that season.

6. Columbus Grove produced the only 15-0 season in this Top 10 list, edging Marion Local 28-26 in the D-VI state final behind sensational workhorse junior back Blaine Maag, who rushed 352 times for 2,713 yards and 43 TDs last year. The Bulldogs of coach Jerry Cooper outscored the opposition 35.7 to 8.6 per game.

7. Southview topped foes 29.7 to 12.9 per game and, led by senior quarterback Chad Peterson, senior receiver extraordinaire Jeff Rowe and junior back Brad Strub, marched its complex offensive scheme to within one point of a D-II state title, losing 19-18 to Walsh Jesuit in the title game.

8. Hardin Northern seemed destined for the D-VI state title in 2002, having gotten to the semifinals twice before and finally beaten two-time defending state champion Marion Local 26-16 in the regional finals. A 20-0 semifinal win over Columbus Grove, which would win the D-VI title a year later, set up a title-game match with Mogadore, which had been crushed in the prior two finals by Marion Local, 54-0 and 63-7. But Mogadore rose up and defeated the Polar Bears of veteran coach Pete Brunow 27-7. History will note that Mogadore won its semifinal on a Friday while Hardin Northern s semi vs. Columbus Grove was postponed by snow two days until Sunday afternoon, cutting down on recovery time and preparation for the finals. The Bears outscored foes 33.3 to 8.8 per game.

9. Findlay s air attack was fun to watch in 2002, and it got the undersized Trojans of head coach Cliff Hite all the way to the D-I state semis. There, they almost produced a huge upset before falling 34-31 to eventual champion Cincinnati Elder, which repeated their big-school championship last year. The explosive Trojans, led by senior QB Kyle Johann, outscored foes 41.4 to 15.3 per game.

10. St. Francis was gunning for back-to-back D-II titles in 2002 with a great portion of its key defensive personnel returning from the 2001 champions. Gone, however, was the offensive production of 01 state offensive player of the year Rodney Gamby, who had graduated. Junior back Ryan Kersey was a solid replacement, but missed a state semifinal game against Dayton Chaminade-Julienne when he violated the school s code of conduct. C-J took a 34-21 win over the Knights, then clipped Macedonia Nordonia 41-26 in the finals. St. Francis outscored opponents 21.5 to 8.1 in 2002.



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