The field is set for the Ohio high school football playoffs, and the divisional brackets include 19 teams from The Blade circulation area.
City League champion Central Catholic (9-1), ranked 11th in the latest Division II state poll, enters the D-II/Region 6 field as its No. 2 seed, and will play host to a familiar first-round foe in Northern Ohio League champion Tiffin Columbian (8-2), albeit at a new venue.
Coach Greg Dempsey's Fighting Irish edged veteran coach Steve Gilbert's Columbian squad 32-31 in the 2002 regional quarterfinals, and the Tornadoes gained revenge in last year's first-round matchup with a 24-0 win over the Irish at Start. The two teams also scrimmage each year in the preseason.
This year's Central-Columbian playoff rubber match will be played Friday at Waite's Mollenkopf Stadium.
"It's going to be a challenge," Dempsey said. "We have to continue to improve, and we have to find a way to stop their running game, and their big-play receiver.
"The two teams have become real familiar, and a kind of rivalry has been formed."
Despite its loss to Central in last Friday's showdown for the CL championship, St. John's Jesuit (8-2) held onto a first-round home game in Division I. The 10th-ranked Titans will take on Elyria (8-2) on Saturday.
St. John's coach Doug Pearson, whose 2003 Titans advanced to the D-I state semifinals, will have to contend with Elyria's pair of 1,000-yard tailbacks (P.J. Mahone and Jaa'Rome Williams) in trying to snap a two-game losing streak.
"The first 10 games don't matter now," Pearson said. "It's a new five-game season, and you take 'em one at a time."
The third CL team to claim a berth is Rogers (7-3), which needed something close to a miracle to qualify in D-II. The Rams already were trailing host Scott 26-14 on Saturday when the Bulldogs returned an interception for a first-and-goal at the Rogers 3-yard line with seven minutes remaining.
A Scott penalty helped the Ram defense complete a goal-line stand, after which Rogers marched 96 yards for a TD to pull within 26-21 with three minutes left. The Rams then got the ball back about a minute later when the Bulldogs lost a fumble at their 18 on a third-down option play.
The Rams went ahead 27-26 on a TD run by quarterback Ronney Hester with 52 seconds to go, and Scott fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
"That was about as miraculous a finish as I've been involved in," Rams coach Rick Rios said. "We knew going in that the only way we could lose and still get in was if Libbey beat Bowsher. So, we told the kids before the game, 'Win and you're in, lose and we go home.'●"
If Rogers had lost, its final computer average would've been 17.5, putting it out at No. 9, just 0.1 behind Piqua. The win vaulted the Rams to No. 5 in Region 6. They will play at Powell Olentangy Liberty (9-1) Friday.
St. Francis de Sales (6-4) saw its run of four straight CL titles and six consecutive playoff appearances snapped, finishing 10th in Region 6, despite a second-place league finish ahead of both St. John's and Rogers. The Knights instead will play Scott (6-4) in Thursday's 7 p.m. City League Hall of Fame charity game at Start.
The last time Northview finished 8-2 overall and 5-2 in Northern Lakes League play was in 1998, when it lost out on the NLL title to co-champions Southview and Bowling Green, who each qualified for the D-II playoffs.
Northview coach Eric Keller also thought his Wildcats made the playoffs that year after the Ohio High School Athletic Association called to tell him they were in.
But, an error in calculating the regional averages - because the Clay-Whitmer result was entered incorrectly - led the OHSAA to call Keller back and advise him his team did not earn a berth.
There were no such calls made yesterday, and Northview, co-champions in the NLL, will make the first playoff appearance in school history on Saturday.
The Wildcats will travel to face powerhouse Greater Buckeye Conference-champion Findlay (9-1) in Division I.
Southview (8-2), which shared the NLL crown with its Sylvania arch rival, earned its third straight (fifth overall) berth in Division II.
The Cougars, D-II
state runners-up in 1999, will host Mansfield Madison (7-3) Friday at Cats Stadium in Sylvania.
Thanks to a 10-0 win by Eastwood at Elmwood last Friday, Otsego
(9-1) was able to split the Suburban Lakes League title with those two schools. And, because of some other help within Region 14 of Division IV, the ninth-ranked Knights of 26th-year coach Dan Cocke were able to secure the last (No. 8) playoff spot.
That earned the Knights a Saturday showdown at fifth-ranked Western Buckeye League champion Ottawa-Glandorf (9-1).
Elmwood (7-3) also sneaked into a No. 8 slot, earning a berth in D-V. But the Royals' penalty for losing to Eastwood and dropping in the region is a first-round matchup against unbeaten and top-ranked Patrick Henry.
Coach Bill Inselmann's Patriots - who went 13-1 after losing to eventual D-V state-champion St. Henry in last year's state semifinals - simply have steamrolled their opposition this season. PH has outscored foes 474-133 overall, including an impressive 355-64 margin before halftime of their 10 wins.
"There's always a feeling of excitement in the playoffs, because it's a whole new season," Inselmann said. "But there was a hungry taste that we got from last year, and we feel we have some unfinished business."
Joining the Pats is Henry County and Northwest Ohio Athletic League arch rival Liberty Center (9-1), which for the first time in its storied playoff history (11 appearances, one title, two runner-up finishes) will be playing in Division VI.
Coach Rex Lingruen's seventh-ranked Tigers, who lost to PH in last year's D-V regional final, and 55-21 this season, won't have to contend with the Patriots again this year.
That gives Henry County two legitimate state-title contenders. The Tigers will open Saturday against visiting Sandusky St. Mary (6-4).
Ottawa Hills (8-2) claimed its second straight Toledo Area Athletic Conference title this year, and will travel to Monroeville in its second playoff appearance.
Sandusky Bay Conference co-champion Clyde (9-1) is in the Division III playoffs.
The Fliers, ranked ninth in Ohio, earned the top seed in Region 10 and will host Tipp City Tippecanoe (7-3) Friday. Midland Athletic League champion Hopewell-Loudon, 10-0 for the second straight regular season, will host Crestline (8-2), and MAL-rival Mohawk (7-3) will travel to Norwalk St. Paul (8-2), with both Division VI/Region 22 games set for Saturday.
Top-ranked Hardin Northern (10-0), champion of the Blanchard Valley Conference, will begin defense of its Division VI state championship by hosting DeGraff Riverside (7-3) in a Region 24 first-rounder Saturday.
BVC runner-up Liberty-Benton (9-1), looks to bounce back from its 21-13 loss to Hardin Northern last Friday by hosting Convoy Crestview (9-1) in a Division V, Region 18 game this Friday.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com or 419-724-6461.
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