Few games in the history of Toledo high school football have been on par with what will take place Friday night, when Whitmer travels to Central Catholic.
Both teams enter at 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Three Rivers Athletic Conference play, with the Irish ranked No. 1 in the latest Division II state poll and the Panthers ranked No. 5 in Division I.
At stake is an outright TRAC title and momentum heading into the state playoffs a week later.
“It’s what every high school kid dreams of, to get to play in a big game in Week 10 for a league title,” said 13th-year Central coach Greg Dempsey. “The coaches love it because the kids are into it, and you know you’re going to get everything they have. You just can’t wait for Friday to get here.”
Dempsey’s team, led by senior running back Amir Edwards and junior quarterback DeShone Kizer, has outscored its nine foes 460-144, an average of 51.1 to 16.0 per game.
“We’re not worried about the crowd,” first-year Whitmer head coach Jerry Bell said. “Our philosophy has always been that we’ll play anywhere — whether it’s in a parking lot, or whether it’s in front of five people or 10,000 people. It doesn’t matter to us.
“We just want to get out there and play the game we love. Our staff is going to have our kids ready to go. Don’t get me wrong. It’s going to be fun to play in an atmosphere like that. But we just worry about having our kids prepared and having them execute at a high level.”
The Panthers have been led offensively by senior quarterback Nick Holley, and the defense is anchored by senior tackle Marquise Moore and senior linebacker Jack Linch.
Where offense has been Central’s calling card this season, Whitmer has hung its hat on defense. The Panthers have held their opponents to a total of 75 points while scoring 395. Their average score in 43.9 to 8.3.
This game comes half a century after one of the biggest prep tilts ever played in Toledo.
That one came in the third week of the 1962 season when Central scored a pivotal 36-20 road victory against fellow City League and state power DeVilbiss before a packed crowd of 10,082 at the former Page Stadium.
That Irish team, which was later helped by DeVilbiss in their climb up the Associated Press state rankings, would finish a perfect 10-0 and, in the preplayoff era, would be declared Ohio’s No. 1 team.
After losing to Central, DeVilbiss and All-Ohio running back Jim Detwiler would knock off top-ranked Alliance 28-8 to clear one obstacle. Another big win for the Irish came when they were ranked No. 2 and took a 20-12 win at No. 5 Steubenville. That win, combined with a 12-12 tie between Alliance and then top-ranked Niles McKinley, vaulted Central to No. 1, a spot the Irish secured with wins over Macomber and St. Francis de Sales to close the season.
Since that year — although Toledo would later produce three state playoff championships — St. Francis (1984 and 2001) and Central (2005) — no other Toledo team has won a state poll title.
Central athletic director Bill Axe said Monday that he is expecting the largest crowd ever at 6,500-seat Gallagher Stadium, surpassing the 6,000 that watched Whitmer’s 21-20 win over the Irish two years ago.
Tickets are on sale at both schools through Friday. Axe projects that no tickets will be available at the gate by game time at 7 p.m. Friday. He recommends that all who plan to attend buy their tickets in advance and to arrive early to avoid traffic delays.
Two other marquee matchups in the last 50 years also involved Central Catholic teams, although both were in playoff competition.
St. Francis blanked the Irish 31-0 in front of an estimated 7,500 at Waite’s Mollenkopf Stadium in a second-round Division II playoff game in 2001. One year later, the defending state-champion Knights topped Central 14-7 before an estimated 8,000 spectators in another second-round test at Waite. Both teams entered that game at 10-1.
Friday night, however, will be the first regular-season game with two 9-0, state-ranked teams from Toledo.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org or419-724-6461 or onTwitter @JungaBlade.