THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
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The level of drama will be lower, but that won t matter much to the combatants in tomorrow night s City League football game between two-time defending champion Central Catholic and this year s preseason favorite, St. John s Jesuit, at the Glass Bowl.
In the last two years this CL showdown was held in the final week of the regular season.
In 2005, with the City title at stake, Central prevailed 27-21, then reeled off five straight playoff wins to capture a Division II state championship.
Last Oct. 27, the Fighting Irish came in 9-0, were ranked No. 1, had already mathematically clinched the league title, and were riding a CL record 22-game winning streak.
But, at a rain-soaked Glass Bowl, the Titans spoiled Central s perfect regular season with a 13-7 win, snapping the streak and denying the Irish a state poll championship.
This time, the two league powers, each 2-1 entering league play, will kick off the CL portion of the schedule. They will have to wait five or six weeks to see how much of an impact this game has the title chase.
You re going to know where you stand with the City League race real early, Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey said. If you win, you still control your own destiny. If you lose, you can t afford to stub your toe again in terms of the City title. In a way, all the marbles may be on the line, but you just don t know it yet.
This game is huge as far as points go in the City League, and as far as state playoff points, St. John s coach Doug Pearson said. All those things are important, and you ve got to come out of the gate right away. You can t afford a letdown.
We had a big win Friday [over Strongsville] and we can t afford a letdown this week. It s the same thing for Central, and I know Greg s going to have his guys ready to go as well.
I d like to play them later in the year, but we can t control the schedule and we re just going to show up [tomorrow] ready to go.
One byproduct of playing the game first, instead of last, is that the teams will likely take the field with different lineups than they will have at season s end.
Currently, each team has five players starting on both offense and defense, a relatively high number of two-way regulars for D-I (St. John s) or D-II schools with larger rosters.
It s not uncommon, at the beginning of the season, to have younger players who don t have enough experience to play those starting spots, Dempsey said. But, as the season goes along, the two-way players usually get fewer and fewer.
Your best players have to play on both sides of the ball. What coaches have to evaluate is whether it s better to play the two-way kid who s tired, or another kid because he s fresh. Sometimes the [two-way] player is just that good that he has to be on the field all the time.
Highlighting the list of double-duty players for Central is 5-11, 215-pound junior tailback-linebacker Brad Rogers, who has been a force for the Irish so far.
A lot of it is just determination and conditioning, Rogers said. The coaches prepare me with a lot of running. I ve got a motor and I don t ever want to quit. I don t like to come off the field because, when I m out there, I feel I can do whatever I need to for the team to get a victory.
Rogers has rushed 50 times for 278 yards and scored five touchdowns through three games, and has recorded 25 tackles.
It s like an instinct, Rogers said of his knack for always being near the ball. I read my keys and just get to where I need to be. That s my style of play. I like contact and I never shy away from it. I like to make the big hit.
Another two-way starter is 6-1, 250-pound senior guard and defensive end Josh Dixon, who received first-team D-II All-Ohio honors on offense in 2006.
I just stay hydrated, and our conditioning from practice helps out a lot, Dixon said of his taxing role. They take me out every third series on defense, and I stay on offense the whole game. I usually just want to stay in the whole time.
We re managing it pretty well right now, and we re trying to get more guys ready who can step up and play more. But, most of the guys who play two ways would rather stay playing two ways.
The other three Central double-timers are 6-4, 270-pound senior center-defensive tackle Eric Herman, who has received scholarship offers from Bowling Green and Ohio University, 6-3, 265-pound senior two-way tackle Dane Whitacre, and senior receiver-strong safety Donte Johnson.
Heading the two-way list for St. John s are senior quarterback-free safety Rick Rattay, who earned first-team D-I All-Ohio honors at defensive back in 2006, and 6-4, 235-pound senior tackle and defensive end Andrew Schaetzke, who has already recorded eight quarterback sacks this year.
I try to keep focused the whole game, Rattay said of his multiple duties. I like all of it. It s a unique opportunity. You get to go in on offense and, if for some reason you make a mistake, you get to get right back on the field and play defense.
Rattay, who had 10 interceptions last season, has passed for 159 yards and one TD, and rushed 34 times for 217 yards and two TDs in three games this season. He also returns punts.
Schaetzke has a good start on breaking the St. John s single-season sacks record of 12 that he set last year. He also plays on special teams on punt returns, and punt and kickoff coverage.
I guess I m in shape and I just try to stay on the field as long as I can until I get tired, said Schaetzke, who was also a Titan basketball starter as a junior. I want to be out there the whole time, but sometimes the coaches notice and they give me a blow. I don t really tell them that I want to come out because then I might not go back in. So, I kind of let them decide for me.
Joining the Titans two-way list are three other seniors tight end-linebacker Ryan Ball, 6-3, 310-pound guard-defensive tackle Justin Leahy, and tight end-linebacker Max Jacoby.
We re trying to keep our best players on the field, Pearson said. Our schedule s been a meat-grinder, and it s tough to develop a lot of younger kids early with the schedule that we ve played.
These are all proven guys. They re all returning starters from last year, and a lot of the guys playing both ways are All-City-type players. So, we obviously expect more from them. But, we re going to continue to keep working [new] guys in and try to get that [number of two-way players] down. If we could two-platoon we d love to do it.
"But, right now, it s just not possible.