One of the marquee high school football matchups in the state of Ohio will take place today when at Central Catholic hosts Findlay in a battle of Three Rivers Athletic Conference unbeatens.
The Irish (4-0, 1-0 TRAC) are ranked No. 1 in the Division II state poll, while the Trojans (4-0, 1-0) are No. 8 in Division I.
Findlay, which handed Central a 31-7 road defeat last year, was the preseason pick to win the TRAC title. Central was voted second.
"Our kids and our coaches are excited because they have a ton of respect for the Findlay football team, knowing what they did last year and all the guys they had coming back," Central coach Greg Dempsey said. "It's a great opportunity to see two really good teams clash in a big league battle.
"I think it'll be a great crowd. Both teams have great support, and it's the type of game that'll bring out the casual high school football fan. They've read a lot about these two teams, and the stats they've put up this year. Now they want to come out and see it."
Said Findlay coach Mark Ritzler: "It's exciting to plan and prepare and try to step up to that challenge. Obviously, this is by far the best opponent that we've played, and the kids are excited to be in a game like this.
"I'd be buying a ticket to go see this one if I wasn't coaching -- that's for sure. They've got kids committed to Ohio State [safety Jayme Thomspon] and Louisville [tight end Keith Towbridge], and a quarterback that's got offers from different Division I schools [DeShone Kizer]. And, we've got some good skill-position kids too. It's going to be a showcase of a lot of talent on the field at one time."
Adding intrigue are the potent offenses of the two teams. The Irish are scoring and average of 51.5 points per game, and the Trojans 56.5.
"We're going to have to get some stops and come up with some big plays on defense, and our offense has to be efficient," Dempsey said. "We have to put our defense in better position than we did last year at Findlay. They got to play on a short field last year. They're the type of offense that can score from 80 yards as easy as 40, but you've got to at least make them do it."
Both teams are loaded at the skill positions.
Kizer, a junior, is 34-of-48 passing for 567 yards and eight touchdowns, and Findlay senior quarterback Paul Cosiano, an All-Ohio second-team selection in 2011, is 23-of-27 for 469 yards and seven TDs.
In the backfield, senior Amir Edwards leads Central's 307-yards-per-game rushing attack with 547 yards on 69 carries (7.9 average) and has scored eight TDs. Senior back Vance Settlemire tops Findlay's 291-yards-per-game run game with 477 yards on 38 attempts (12.6 average), and has 12 TDs.
"It comes down to which team's going to stop the run better," Ritzler said. "That's always the key. Edwards is the key to their offense. He sets up play-action [passing], and he forces you to keep extra guys in the box. That opens up things in their passing game.
"Edwards is going to get his yards, but we just have to do as much as we can to limit the big ones. It is also absolutely critical that we are able to run the ball. Having balance forces them to be on their heels a little bit."
Central's top receiving threats have been juniors Paul Moses (eight catches, 190 yards, TD) and Derich Weiland (10 catches, 118 yards, three TDs), and Cosiano's top targets have been seniors Jimmy Orwick (seven catches, 119 yards, TD), 6-foot-7 Joseph Davidson (five catches, 100 yards, three TDs) and Austin Niswander (four catches, 106 yards).
On defense, the top tacklers for the Irish are senior safety Mitch Cochell (22), senior linebacker Ian Butler (19), sophomore linebacker Chris Green (18), and senior tackle Jon Perrin (15).
Findlay's leading tacklers are junior linebacker Mitchell Perry (25), junior lineman Andy Strzesynski (21), and senior linebacker Devin Dennard (21).
"That loss last year had a lot of impact on us coaches and the team," Dempsey said. "The coaches knew they needed to put our kids in better position to succeed, especially on offense, after that game.
"Two things can happen when you fail -- you accept it and continue to do the same things, or you can fight. I thought our kids got a lot tougher as a result of that game."
Added Ritzler: "Before the season I'm sure they circled this game on the calendar. After we were picked to win the TRAC, maybe they circled it two or three times.
"Also, it's at their place, so we certainly realize that we are going to be playing a motivated and energized team."
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.
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