Bragging rights for a year and possession of the coveted Ding Dong Bell are usually more than enough to get the communities of Maumee and Perrysburg revved up for the annual gridiron showdown.
But with the Northern Lakes League title on the line for the Panthers and a potential playoff berth at stake for the Yellow Jackets things have amped up even more for tomorrow's clash. Maumee (8-1 overall, 5-1 NLL) hosts Perrysburg (7-2, 4-2) at Kazmaier Stadium at 7 p.m.
“I'd say it's the biggest sporting event of the year for both schools,” Maumee coach John Boles said. “This is why you put in all the work and preparation so you can get to this point. You have to embrace the moment. I want our players to enjoy it.”
The Panthers, whose lone loss came to Anthony Wayne (37-20 on Sept. 25), are gunning for their first NLL title since 2001 when they shared it with Perrysburg. Maumee could tie for the title with two-time defending champion Southview. The Panthers shut out the Cougars 19-0 on Oct. 19. Southview also is 5-1 and plays rival Northview tomorrow.
The Yellow Jackets came into the season inexperienced, but now have a shot to reach the playoffs with a win and some help.
“Expectations were not that high, but credit goes to our kids,” Perrysburg coach Matt Kregel said. “They decided not to be a doormat. They've had a great season so far.”
Maumee enters with the NLL's top passer, senior quarterback Jake Goatley, who has thrown for 1,618 yards and 24 touchdowns. Senior receiver Damon Contat leads the league in receiving yards and has scored 11 touchdowns. Junior running back Eric Jones has run for 684 yards.
Perrysburg has been paced by senior wideout Matt Marquette (68 points and 536 receiving yards) and junior quarterback Matt Slocum (1,159 passing yards and 12 TDs).
Perrysburg had won three in a row in the series before Maumee took a 28-21 win last season. In the last 10 meetings, the Yellow Jackets have won six times.
This is the first time since 2002 the game has been moved back to its traditional spot as the last regular season game for both teams.
“It's great that they moved it back to the last game of the year,” said Boles, who is in his 12th season at Maumee. “There is a lot of stuff riding on this game. Both teams will play hard. Since we lost to Anthony Wayne there's been a lot riding on every game. Our players wanted to be in this spot. We want to be in the playoffs and play well in playoffs.”
For the 49th season, the winning team will take home the Ding Dong Bell. According to legend, the bell was used at Fort Meigs in the early 1800s but was lost in the Maumee River in 1816 when it was being transferred to Fort Miami on the Maumee side. It was raised in 1959, mounted on wheels and has been awarded to the winner of the Maumee-Perrysburg game since 1960.
“Beating Maumee is kind of bigger than the rest of it,” Kregel said. “We weren't sure how good we were going to be. But the kids have worked hard for this. We've put ourselves in position to beat Maumee. This is a major goal.”
Kregel, who is in his fourth season, said his team will need to control the clock on offense and will need to make a few big plays.
“We will have to force a turnover to change the course of the game,” he said.
Sophomore Michah Carter has been stellar along the defensive line, Kregel said.
Boles said keys will be taking care of the football, while playing good defense and well up front on both sides of the ball. He said much attention has been paid to the Panther offense but that players such as Kevin King, Evan Karchner, Chris Rogge and Erik Studyvin have led a dominant defense.
On the heels of winning its first league football title in 11 years and earning its first Michigan playoff berth in 19 seasons, Bedford was hoping for one more reward from its solid 7-2 season — a home playoff game.
But that did not happen as the Michigan High School Athletic Association matched up the Mules on the road with a familiar foe.
The Mules will play at Ann Arbor Pioneer (7-2), the team Bedford edged for a Southeastern Conference Red Division title thanks to a thrilling 28-21 win over the visiting Pioneers on Sept. 25.
“We accomplished a goal that we set at the beginning of the year, and the kids worked so hard to get to it,” second-year coach Jeff Woods said. “Not only since August, but since back in January. They were in the weight room with only the league championship in mind.”
That victory went down as one of the most memorable in Bedford's football history, as the Mules used two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the comeback against a Pioneer team that was ranked No. 6 in Division 1 at the time. It was Bedford's first win over Pioneer after nine straight losses and being outscored 233-76 by the Pioneers since joining the SEC in 2000.
“We knew on Saturday afternoon that we were going to be playing Pioneer,” Woods said. “I'm sure the kids are disappointed [not playing at home], but [the Pioneers] still have to play well, and we'll have to play well because they're an extremely talented team.”
Pioneer got the home nod over Bedford because it held an 85.667 to 83.222 edge in computer-points average.
In its only prior playoff appearance, Bedford lost to Dearborn 10-8 in the first round in 1990. The Pioneers have a more established postseason pedigree, with 11 playoff appearances, including a Class A state championship in 1987.
“For our community and our student body, this is huge,” Woods said. “They've supported us so well all year, and this is a big deal for everybody in our community. It's a great opportunity to show what Bedford athletes and our school is all about.”
Jared Kujawa has rushed 126 times for a team-high 773 yards, and has scored 15 touchdowns. He has completed 17 of 38 passes for 409 yards and six TDs. Slot back Zach Messer has 668 yards on just 71 rushes (9.4 average), and has scored 14 total TDs. He had three TDs in the Sept. 25 win over Pioneer.
Leading the Bedford defense in tackles are David Digby (96), Steve Rowland (91), Messer (67), T. J. Romijn (65) and Kujawa (57). Messer tops the team in interceptions with three.
t Blissfield (7-2) is making its sixth Michigan playoffs appearance in eight seasons under coach Ron Estes. The Royals play at Ecorse (8-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Division 6,District 2 game.
Estes said Ecorse is a team with great size and good speed. He said it's an explosive team that can score points in a hurry.
“We can't give up big plays,” Estes said. “One of our goals is to make them drive the ball. They don't do that very often. They hit plays for 60 and 70 yards.”
The Royals featured great running attacks in previous seasons, but have thrown the ball every bit as well this year.
Junior quarterback Eric Schmidt has been nicked up this season and has missed some playing time. But Schmidt has completed 56 percent of his passes and has a solid touchdown to interception ratio. Seniors Kyle Westfall (flanker) and Dylan Esterline (tight end) have been his main targets.
The Royals' leading rusher is junior Dalton Goetz.
Senior Eric Ford has been the team's leading tackler, while sophomore safety Josh Knorr has eight interceptions.
Blissfield's only losses were to Hudson (35-30) and Onsted (28-27), both Lenawee County Athletic Association opponents.