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Published: Friday, 10/9/2009

Bryan, PH set for clash Each team seeking NWOAL crown

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

If you wish to frame tonight's battle between Bryan and Patrick Henry as a matchup between David and Goliath, be careful.

After all, can you be sure which team fills what role?

At first glance, it may seem as if Bryan (5-1) plays the part of the hulking Philistine, since it is the largest school in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. Meanwhile Patrick Henry (6-0), one of the smallest schools in the league, assumes the role of the underdog.

But in recent seasons it has been the Patriots playing the role of big, bad bully, either sharing or claiming outright the last seven NWOAL titles.

PH coach Bill Inselmann, whose team will enter the game with a 5-0 league mark, one win better than the Golden Bears, said his team hasn't let the pressure to continue the school's string of league titles affect its play.

"Our kids seem to accept [the role of favorite] and become motivated by it," Inselmann said. "These kids know they are playing not just for this team, but for teams in years past. That tradition of success gives our kids confidence, and that's a great thing to have."

Bryan coach Travis Cooper agreed, adding, "They play with a lot of confidence - you can even see that confidence on tape. They don't have to think. They just react and play hard."

The Patriot offense is led by Justin Buenger, who has run for 866 yards and 18 touchdowns in his team's first six games.

"Justin Buenger is having a better year than last year," said Inselmann of his senior back, who last season set a school record by running for 1,375 yards. "He's a better blocker, and he's a little bit quicker.

"It's not his size or his speed that makes him special; it's his ability to read blockers and make cuts."

Quarterback Luke George also is a weapon for PH as the senior has thrown for 785 yards and nine TDs without an interception while adding 457 rushing yards. His favorite target has been Dylan Tonjes, who has caught 20 passes for 313 yards and three scores.

"I think George is the best quarterback in the league because he's such a good decision-maker," Cooper said. "When you have both he and Buenger, you have two dangerous weapons.

"And they have such an attacking defense. When you combine their physicality with their speed, they are just ferocious."

The Patriots have forced 13 turnovers while limiting opponents to just 945 yards and 61 points in six games - averages of slightly more than 157 yards and 10 points per contest.

"We've had a neat blend of veterans and young kids stepping up," Inselmann said of his defense. "With Aaron George at defensive end, Xavier Dye at nose guard and Bill Miller at linebacker, we've got some talented veterans.

"Joe Imbrock at linebacker has stepped up and become our leading tackler, while Cody Brubaker has become an excellent cornerback."

While the Patriots have been in numerous big games in recent seasons, the Golden Bears are in unfamiliar territory. Bryan looks to post a winning NWOAL record for the first time since 2000 as it hunts for the school's first league title since 1986 - not to mention the school's first-ever state

playoff berth.

"I knew when Travis Cooper got that job, it would just be a matter of time before he got things going there," Inselmann said. "He was an assistant coach under Jerry Buti [at Defiance], which means he learned how to build a team that's fundamentally strong with a good work ethic."

The Golden Bears are talented, too. On offense, Levi Fisher has run for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the ground game, while Cody Keil has thrown for 599 yards and eight more scores.

Keil's favorite target is Alex Nossaman, who has caught 18 passes for 343 yards and six TDs.

"They are a very difficult offense to defend [against] because they have a good mix of the run and pass," Inselmann said of Bryan. "They have multiple skilled athletes - they probably have the most talented senior class in the league.

"Nossaman is a big receiver who causes teams major problems, and Fisher is tremendous."

Cooper said his team's balance of running and passing has helped the offense to outscore opponents 218-65 in its first six games.

"When teams game-plan to stop a particular part of our offense, we look to exploit that defense in some other way," he said. "So far we've been just as effective no matter what we choose."

Contact John Wagner at:

jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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