The high school football season is at its midway point and week No. 6 features some of the most crucial games of the year in terms of settling league races and solidifying playoff chances.
In the City League, the annual Battle of the Saints pits St. Francis de Sales (4-1, 2-0) and St. John's Jesuit (3-2, 2-0) tonight at 7 o'clock at the Glass Bowl.
The game of the night, and perhaps the regular season in northwest Ohio, takes place in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League at 7:30 in Hamler. That's where visiting Delta (5-0, 3-0), ranked fourth in Ohio in Division IV, battles Patrick Henry (5-0, 4-0), rated eighth in D-V.
And, in Tontogany, Woodmore (3-2, 2-0) plays Otsego (5-0, 2-0) in a key Suburban Lakes League duel.
St. Francis coach Dick Cromwell's Knights were the preseason pick of CL coaches to win their fourth straight title and 11th overall for Cromwell.
But the failure to establish a reliable passing attack through five games has kept the Knights from matching their early hype.
Tailback Robert Garza (115 carries, 457 yards) has provided much of the offense, while quarterback Brandon Speweik has hit on 17 of 40 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns plus rushed 44 times for 173 yards.
After being throttled 45-0 at Cincinnati Moeller in Week 3, St. Francis needed a 95-yard TD drive in the closing minutes to edge Clay 17-14 in its CL opener, and last week needed Speweik's stunning 44-yard TD sprint with 1:13 remaining to escape at Whitmer, 12-7.
"We just haven't quite settled into an offensive flow like we usually have by now," Cromwell said.
St. John's, a Division I state semifinalist last year, hasn't thriven offensively either.
The Titans do have the talented senior backfield duo of fullback Marcus Waugh (81 carries, 504 yards, 5 TDs) and tailback Dorian Milletti (58 carries, 232 yards) back from its 10-4 team of 2003. But Titan coach Doug Pearson has experimented at QB with sophomore Sean Patterson and senior Andrew Vollmar, and his team has been burdened by 11 turnovers, plus penalties.
As a player at St. John's, Pearson, a Titan lineman in 1980 and '81, was 2-0 against Cromwell. As coach he is 0-8 vs. Cromwell and St. Francis, 0-6 while at Start and 0-2 for his alma mater.
The most painful of those losses came last year when St. Francis scored a late fourth-quarter TD and made its PAT to squeak out a 7-6 win. The Titans had their PAT blocked earlier. That proved to be the difference in St. Francis edging St. John's and Whitmer for the City championship. All were 6-1 in CL play, as was Clay, but the Knights had more standings points.
"That's something that motivates me and something we've got to get done," Pearson said of beating St. Francis. "We've been telling these players that last year is over and it's time to forge a new identity. We can start to do that by winning [tonight]."
Over the previous 10 seasons St. Francis owns an 8-3 record over St. John's, including three in a row. The Knights, 91-32 overall and 55-8 in CL play over that span, have outscored the Titans by an average of 20.7 to 14.7. St. John's, which lost twice to St. Francis in 1998, is 78-40 overall and 53-10 in the CL since '94.
"It's going to end some year," Cromwell said of his streak against Pearson. "Hopefully not this one
"I think this game's going to be a slugfest up front. They've been playing better and better on defense. We've got to find a way to neutralize Marcus Waugh on both sides of the ball."
"We can't turn the ball over like we have been, and we've been harping on the special teams all week," Pearson said.
Delta at Patrick Henry
Delta, 12-2 and a D-IV state semifinalist last year, lost just once during the 2003 regular season. But that 42-21 thumping in Week 6 from visiting Patrick Henry ended a three-year Delta winning streak against PH, and denied the Panthers a second straight NWOAL title.
It was such an emotional blow to his team that Delta coach Mike Vicars found it necessary to bring in a motivational speaker a few days later to help refocus his emotionally deflated troops.
"We walked away from that game just shaking our heads," Vicars said. "They're the hardest team to defend because of their [run-pass] balance.
"That's not common in small high school football. Usually, you don't have the time or the people to develop that kind of offense at this level. But they have figured it out."
This season, Delta has been a finely tuned machine, outscoring its five foes 223-36. Those numbers could actually be much more lopsided, but Vicars' first-team offense has yet to play a second-half down. The first-team defense has been out by the second series of the third quarter. The only points scored on Delta's first defense were the three Rossford got on its very first possession in the season-opener after executing an onsides kick.
In 10 quarters, senior back Nate Kmic has rushed 45 times for 533 yards (11.8 per carry) and has 12 TDs plus 23 PAT points for an area-best 95 points.
Senior QB Ryan Vicars, Mike's son, has completed 17 of 23 passes for 415 yards and eight TDs with no interceptions. Leading receiver Craig Walter has seven catches for 209 yards and five TDs.
For PH, which has outscored foes 226-31, junior QB Zack George has completed 57 of 98 passes for 936 yards, with 11 TDs and two interceptions. All-Ohio receiver Marc Krauss has 18 catches for 360 yards and five TDs.
"This will be a good challenge for our offense," Patriots coach Bill Inselmann said. "They have a tremendous front five, and their linebackers are quick and good.
"One thing that will be important for us is keeping them off balance by mixing the run and pass. We've been working very hard on pass protection, and we have some different schemes ready to go in case they decide to use some different blitzes."
In the past 10 seasons Patrick Henry owns a 6-4 record against Delta. PH is 81-30 overall and 62-22 in the NWOAL since 1994, Delta 58-55 and 37-46.
A sophomore and junior-dominated Otsego team started 4-1, 2-0 last year before it met the meat of its SLL slate. A reality check was delivered at Woodmore, which blanked the Knights 17-0. Otse-
go would finish 5-5, 3-4. That loss also ended a four-game Knight streak over Woodmore.
In the past 10 seasons, Woodmore holds a 6-4 edge over Otsego, edging the Knights by a narrow average of 13.6 to 12.9 points per game. Since 1994, Woodmore is 73-39 overall, 48-24 in SLL play. Otsego is 66-42 and 45-27.
"Woodmore, through the years, has been one of those opponents we've had a real tough time with," said Otsego coach Dan Cocke. "It always seems to be a real good game, and this one will be no exception.
"Lou [Wildcats coach Bosh] does a real nice job preparing his kids, and they do a good job playing defense."
Cocke says the team that has won the Otsego-Woodmore games over the years has simply been the better team that year.
"If your team is prepared and doesn't turn the ball over, and you still lose, it's usually because the other team is better.
"We think we've got some talented players and we've improved from last year. But we still have to go out and show it."