Central Catholic's Chris Willis dives for yardage against St. John's Jesuit in the final game of the regular season. The Irish won, earning their first City League championship since 1982. Central, St. John's and Rogers all qualified for postseason play.
Now that the City League has qualified three of its teams - Central Catholic, Rogers and St. John's Jesuit - for the state football playoffs, the next question is just how long will they last?
A year ago, an all-time high four CL teams earned playoff berths. But three were gone after the first round and Whitmer, which won at Massillon Jackson in its Division I postseason opener, was out after Round 2.
One of last year's first-round losers was Central, which gets a chance to avenge a 24-0 playoff loss to Tiffin Columbian.
Coach Greg Dempsey's 10th-ranked Fighting Irish (9-1), fresh off winning their first CL title in 23 years, have a playoff rubber match at 7:30 tonight against Columbian (8-2) at Waite's Mollenkopf Stadium. This is the third first-round meeting between the teams in four seasons. The Irish edged the Tornadoes 32-31 in the first round of the 2002 playoffs.
Central's main task is containing speedy Columbian wideout Josh Moore, who also lines up at running back and shotgun quarterback to get more touches.
Veteran Columbian coach Steve Gilbert calls Moore "the best player in northwest Ohio, hands down," and the standout was invited by Ohio State University to watch the Buckeyes play Illinois tomorrow.
The 6-2, 195-pound senior, who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, has caught 33 passes for 842 yards (25.5-yard average) and 10 TDs. He has also rushed for more than 200 yards and two more scores. At cornerback, he has five interceptions.
Running back Dusty Krupp is Columbian's main ground weapon, carrying 187 times for 879 yards and eight TDs, and fullback/linebacker Judd Lutz has contributed 405 yards and four TDs to go with 82 tackles.
Sophomore Jake Peacock has filled in admirably at quarterback, after original starter Drew Ardner was injured. He is 37 of 79 passing for 925 yards and eight TDs in seven games.
"We're as familiar with Central as with any team we play in our league," said Gilbert, whose Northern Ohio League champions also scrimmage Central each year in the preseason. "Our teams are a lot alike. We each have a big-play receiver, an effective quarterback, a real good middle linebacker and some good defensive backs.
"Turnovers and field position will be keys in this game, and special teams play will be huge. This is a great first-round matchup."
Central counters with a balanced offense and a consistent defense.
Quarterback Kevin Jansen is 101 of 147 for 1,268 yards and 11 TDs, and tailback Chris Willis has added 1,224 rushing yards on 228 carries. Dane Sanzenbacher (47 catches, 821 yards, six TDs) keeps the defense honest. They operate behind a veteran offensive line led by senior guard Mike Starkey and junior center Zach Boling.
Middle linebacker Ryan Brown (104 tackles, three interceptions), safety Kevin Boyle (84 tackles, two interceptions) and senior linebacker Lee Marquette pace the defense.
Statistically, the Rogers Rams (7-3) do not jump off the page as a playoff team. But, as any coach will tell you, the game is not played on paper.
The Rams, the City League's most improved squad after ending 1-9 in 2004, earned the school's second postseason berth with a solid defensive effort and timely, albeit inconsistent, offensive play.
Rogers has outscored foes just 166-152, and has been outgained by a per-game average of 283-256 in yardage.
The defense is led by Miami-bound safety Peris Edwards, linebackers Anthony Ben (96 tackles) and Joe Bixler, linemen Dwight Gibbs and Ben Swain, and cornerback Myshan Veasley-Pettis (four interceptions).
The Ram offense features two big-play threats in junior quarterback Ronney Hester and senior wideout Jermaine Dykes. Hester (95 of 208 passing for 1,433 yards and 12 TDs with 14 interceptions) also leads the team in rushing with 586 yards on 172 carries. Dykes has 36 grabs for 633 yards and 10 total TDs.
The Rams travel to Powell Olentangy Liberty tonight to face a 9-1 Patriot team in just its third year of existence.
The focal point of the Ram defense will be the Patriots' do-it-all quarterback Kyle Endicott, who is 40 of 95 passing for 612 yards and eight TDs, and has rushed for 443 yards and five scores. Running back/linebacker Ridge Riebold leads the Pats in rushing (701 yards) and tackles (105).
"They run a lot of counter action," Rogers coach Rick Rios said of Liberty. "We'll have to be able to defend the run, first and foremost. We have to be disciplined and take care of all our gaps. Overall, we'll have to play error-free football and be able to establish the run."
St. John's - reeling from two losses to close the regular season, games against CL rivals St. Francis de Sales and Central that cost the Titans a league title - is hoping to wipe the slate clean in the postseason.
The Titans (8-2) open with a "home" game in Division I tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Rogers against first-time playoff qualifier Elyria (8-2).
The Pioneers' rookie tag may be deceiving, and St. John's faces an offense which averages 436 yards and 42.1 points per game.
Elyria features three 1,000-yard players, led by senior tailback P.J. Mahone, who runs a 4.38 40 and has rushed 132 times for 1,374 yards, caught 34 passes for another 758 yards, and scored 27 TDs.
Junior tailback Jaa'Rome Williams (176 carries, 1,167 yards, 16 TDs) and senior quarterback Roger Smith (59 of 89, 1,036 yards, nine TDs) round out the potent trio.
"We've got to take away the run," Titan coach Doug Pearson said. "To do that we'll need to play good team defense - put eight men in the box and try to stop them. It's assignment football. Everybody's got to do their job."
The Titans, who average 380 yards and 31.6 points per game, counter with senior running back DeAndre Ware (217 carries, 1,312 yards, 16 TDs), junior quarterback Sean Patterson (1,517 passing yards, 394 rushing yards) and a trio of receivers (Jake Bombrys, Jalil Carter, Ross Hartwig) with over 20 catches each.
Contact Steve Junga at: