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Published: Monday, 11/2/2009

Northwest Ohio sees 12 teams in playoffs

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Four City League teams plus one from the Northern Lakes League have qualified for the Ohio High School Athletic Association's state football playoffs, with first-time City champion Whitmer (9-1, 6-1 CL) heading that list.

Coach Joe Palka's eighth-ranked Panthers earned the No. 1 seed in Region 2 of Division I and will host a first-round playoff game against Canton McKinley (6-4) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs, a longtime Ohio football power, climbed into the eighth and final Region 2 slot by beating archrival Massillon Washington on Saturday.

With few exceptions, all playoff games this year in divisions I, IV, and VI are scheduled to be played on Saturdays at 7 p.m., and all games in divisions II, III, and V are set for Fridays at 7:30 p.m.

Joining Whitmer from the City League are three teams that earned the top three seeds in Region 6 of Division II - sixth-ranked St. Francis de Sales (9-1, 6-1), CL runner-up Central Catholic (8-2, 6-1), which had its run of four straight league titles ended by Whitmer, and fourth-place Rogers (9-1, 6-1).

St. Francis, the No. 1 seed, will host No. 8 North Ridgeville (8-2) at Whitmer. Coach Dick Cromwell, in his 25th season overall in two stints at St. Francis, is guiding the Knights to their 13th playoff appearance, including a Division I state title during his first St. Francis stretch in 1984, a D-II state championship in 2001, and two D-II state runner-up finishes (1982 and 2002).

Central will be making its 11th playoff appearance and eighth in the last nine years under 10th-year coach Greg Dempsey, who guided the Fighting Irish to a Division II state championship in 2005.

The Irish, seeded No. 2 in Region 6, play host to No. 7 Rocky River (7-3), and No. 3 Rogers will host No. 6 Maple Heights (8-2).

Rogers is making its third playoff appearance, all since 2001 under 10th-year coach Rick Rios.

This is only the second time four CL schools have qualified in the same year. In 2004, St. Francis and Whitmer reached in D-I, and Central and Clay made it in D-II.

Completing the list of teams that will be hosting first-round D-II games in Region 6 is NLL co-champion Maumee (9-1, 6-1), which secured the No. 4 seed and will play host to perennial D-II power Avon Lake, the No. 5 seed. Maumee's Panthers earned a berth for the seventh time, including five in the past nine seasons under 12th-year coach John Boles.

Maumee shared the league title with 2008 D-II state champion Southview (7-3, 6-1), which moved up to Division I this season based on enrollment and did not qualify for the Region 2 playoff field. The Cougars wound up in 10th place in the region with a computer points average of 17.45, just 0.30 behind No. 9 Hudson, which actually tied McKinley at 17.75 but lost a tie-breaker based on third-level points in the Harbin ratings system.

Two Suburban Lakes League teams qualified in Division IV, Region 14, with three-time defending SLL champion Genoa (10-0, 6-0) earning the No. 2 seed to set up a first-round matchup with No. 7 Milan Edison (8-2) of the Sandusky Bay Conference. Coach Mike Vicars' Comets are ranked fourth in the state in D-IV, have won 29 straight regular-season games, are a perfect 20-0 in SLL play under Vicars, and started 13-0 last season before falling to eventual champion Kettering Alter in the D-IV state semifinals.

Genoa's only three postseason appearances have come the last three years under Vicars, who also led Ada to its first appearance in 1994 and Delta to its only six berths between 2000 and 2006.

Eastwood (8-2, 5-1), the SLL runner-up the past three years, tied with Lorain Clearview for the No. 8 spot in Region 14, but won a third-level points tie-breaker to earn the berth. The Eagles, whose only losses came against two state-ranked 10-0 teams - Genoa and Patrick Henry - will travel to face another state-rated 10-0 team, seventh-ranked Northern Ohio League champion Galion, in the first round. Eastwood is making its sixth postseason appearance, all within the last eight years under 28th-year coach Jerry Rutherford.

In Division III, fifth-ranked Napoleon (8-2), which was forced to share the Greater Buckeye Conference title with Sandusky and Findlay after losing 20-17 to the latter on Friday night, is the No. 3 seed in Region 10. That gives the Wildcats of second-year coach Tory Strock a challenging first-round matchup against visiting No. 6 Columbus Eastmoor (8-2), which lost 21-10 to Aurora in last year's D-III state championship game. Napoleon has qualified for the playoffs for the ninth time.

Bryan (8-2), the Northwest Ohio Athletic League runner-up, made the posteseason for the first time, reaching as the No. 8 seed in Region 10. The Golden Bears of second-year coach Travis Cooper have the unenviable task of traveling to a first-round game at No. 1 seed and perennial state power Columbus DeSales (7-3). The ninth-ranked Stallions are making their 20th postseason appearance, and have three state championships (the last in 1998) and four state runner-up finishes (the last in 2005).

Patrick Henry, Ohio's top-ranked Division V team, won its eighth straight NWOAL championship this season with an 8-0 league mark under 19th-year coach Bill Inselmann. PH, which reached the regional final last year, turned in its second consecutive 10-0 regular season. The Patriots, who are making their 12th playoff appearance (11 under Inselmann), won a D-V state championship in 2005 and reached the semifinals in 2004 and 2007.

The Pats open this postseason by hosting three-time defending Toledo Area Athletic Conference champion Northwood (7-3, 6-0). The Rangers of 24th-year coach Ken James finally gained a D-V berth after missing out with an 8-2 record in 2007 and a 9-1 mark last year. Northwood, which is making its fifth playoff appearance, is 46-3 in TAAC play since joining the conference in 2001.

In Division VI, Midland Athletic League co-champion Fremont St. Joseph (9-1, 6-1) will be making its 10th postseason appearance, but first since 1997. The Crimson Streaks of coach Todd Drusback earned their co-championship and the No. 5 seed in Region 22 after prevailing in a memorable 3-0 overtime battle at MAL co-champion and fifth-ranked Carey (9-1, 6-1) last Friday night. The Streaks travel to Blanchard Valley Conference champion Leipsic (9-1, 9-0) for a first-round game. Leipsic's lone loss came in Week 1 at Patrick Henry.

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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