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Of all the high school football games to be played in northwest Ohio today, two stand out as the most crucial for league championship races and playoff points.
At Whitmer’s Memorial Stadium, a key Three Rivers Athletic Conference matchup has the Panthers (6-0, 3-0 TRAC) hosting preseason conference favorite Findlay (5-1, 2-1) in what promises to be a duel between the area’s top big-school defense and offense, respectively.
At Bryan, the host Golden Bears (6-0, 4-0), preseason favorites to win the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, try to make that prognostication hold up against perennial NWOAL power Patrick Henry (6-0, 5-0).
Whitmer, ranked sixth in the Division I state poll, sits in the No. 2 spot in the Region 2 computer playoff standings. The Panthers have yielded just 29 total points in six games (4.8 average), and have yet to allow more than seven points in any game.
Whitmer has reeled off 24 consecutive regular-season victories and posted a 31-3 overall record since the start of the 2010 season.
Findlay, which was 9-2 (6-1 TRAC) in 2011, entered this season with nine starters returning from an offense that averaged 38 points per game a year ago.
“We’re not putting pressure on our guys to win or lose the game,” first-year Whitmer coach Jerry Bell said. “We’re trying to get them to compete at their highest level. That’s the way we practice all the time.
“Our guys are focused on the task at hand against Findlay, and they understand what it means. Our objective is to be 10-0 at the end of the [regular] season, and Findlay is just a hurdle in our way. That’s the mentality that we have to have.”
Picked as the title favorite by TRAC coaches, the Trojans were ranked No. 8 in D-I when they stumbled in Week 5. They absorbed a 56-27 conference loss at Central Catholic. The Irish, Ohio’s top-ranked Division II team, were picked second this year in the TRAC and had lost 31-7 at Findlay last season.
With its offense scoring 52.3 points per game, Findlay has few worries on that side of the ball. But, after topping St. Francis de Sales 61-42 last Friday, the Trojans have given up 98 points in their last two contests, a cause for concern for coach Mark Ritzler against Whitmer, which averages 38.6 points per game.
“Certainly we have to step up to their physical play on both sides of the ball,” Ritzler said of Whitmer. “That’s what really hurt us against Central Catholic. They were much more physical than us on both sides of the ball, and we didn’t step up to that challenge. Whitmer is certainly at that level.”
Findlay senior running back Vance Settlemire has rushed 73 times for 862 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Paul Cosiano is 44-of-68 passing for 860 yards and 11 TDs with just one interception.
“Playing against their offense will be one of the biggest challenges we’ll face all year,” Bell said of the Trojans. “They’re extremely explosive.
“They can take a one or two-yard bubble screen and turn it into a 60 or 70-yard touchdown, and [Settlemire] can take a one or two-yard play into a touchdown as well. Cosiano can beat you with his feet and with his arm.”
Cosiano’s slew of targets includes Jimmy Orwick (14 catches, 257 yards, 2 TDs), 6-foot-7 Joseph Davidson (9 catches, 173 yards, 3 TDs), Wyatt Krupp (8 catches, 146 yards, 4 TDs), and Austin Niswander (8 catches, 180 yards, 1 TD).
Whitmer senior quarterback Nick Holley leads the Panthers in rushing (91 carries, 776 yards, 9 TDs), and is 49-of-77 passing for 590 yards and 10 TDs. Panther senior running back Me’Gail Frisch has added 361 yards on 76 carries, and junior wideout Chris Boykin has 19 receptions for 271 yards and seven TDs.
“Something’s going to give,” Ritzler said. “They haven’t give up more than seven points in a ballgame. A lot of people said coming into the season that, ‘Boy, they’ve lost so much on defense.’
“Well, it certainly doesn’t show. The two tackles — [Marquise] Moore and [Joenathan] Mays — are outstanding. The linebackers behind them are very good up the middle, and the rest of them run so well to the football.”
Bryan is ranked 11th in Division III, while the Patriots come in rated No. 4 in Division V. The Bears have already passed one of their three main league tests by pounding Archbold (5-1, 3-1) by a 56-14 count in Week 2. After PH, their third big test is next week at defending league champion LibertyCenter (5-1, 4-1).
“We’re both fortunate to be in the position we’re in,”Bryan coach Kevin Kline said. “Both being 6-0 adds some excitement to the game. This is what you work so hard for during the offseason and the summer — to get yourself in a position to play in a game that means this much.”
Patrick Henry was picked to place second in the NWOAL and has already handled its Henry County archrival Liberty Center 54-14 in Week 4. The Patriots’ other key matchup has them hosting Archbold next Friday.
“The winner of this game is going to be in the driver’s seat for the league,” PH coach Bill Inselmann said. “It doesn’t mean they’ve got it locked up, but the winner will be the only team without a loss in the league.”
The Golden Bears, who have outscored foes 284-60, have been led by senior quarterback Austin Schimmoeller. He is 88-of-130 passing for 1,315 yards and 11 touchdowns, and tops Bryan in rushing with 97 carries for 974 yards and 17 TDs.
“Our No. 1 concern is their offense,” Inselmann said. “They run a spread and, believe it or not, we haven’t seen a spread offense yet this year. Their quarterback is just a tremendous athlete, and he’s a triple threat.
“Schimmoeller can run the ball, he’s a much-improved passer from last year, and the biggest thing is his scrambling ability. Sometimes he just makes plays out of nothing.”
Bryan’s Collin Bacon has added 254 yards on 41 rushes and scored eight TDs, and Schimmoeller’s targets in Bryan’s spread offense include Elijah Bogosian (46 catches, 503 yards, 2 TDs), Daniel Pendergrast (17 catches, 244 yards, 4 TDs), and Sean Culler (18 catches, 229 yards, 1 TD).
Patrick Henry, which has outscored foes 264-75, counters with junior running back Tobey Hernandez (81 carries, 899 yards, 15 TDs), senior quarterback Gabe Jones (31-of-55 passing, 711 yards, 6 TDs; 58 rushes, 508 yards, 4 TDs), and leading receiver Zach Nye (7 catches, 211 yards, TD).
The Patriots’ true strength, however, is their offensive and defensive lines, anchored by D-I college recruit Colt Pettit, a 6-4, 245-pound junior.
“Their line play is really good,” Kline said of PH. “They have kids who are just very physical, move very well, and block well. That’s our biggest concern coming in.
“We have to play good, sound defense, and then we have to take care of the football on offense and take advantage of opportunities when we get them.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter @JungaBlade.