Fresh off of their resounding 42-0 football victory at Central Catholic Friday night, the unbeaten Whitmer Panthers now look to embark on a third straight deep playoff run in Division I.
The fifth-ranked Panthers (10-0, 7-0), who earned their second straight Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship by beating Central (9-1, 6-1), made it four consecutive titles counting their City League crowns in 2008 and 2009.
Whitmer finished the regular season as the No. 2 seed in the Division I, Region 2 computer playoff ratings and will host a first-round playoff game against Avon Lake (8-2) on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
First-year head coach Jerry Bell’s Panthers began the season picked to place third in the TRAC, according to the conference’s preseason coaches poll. They had graduated six seniors who moved on to Division I college programs, and that void seemed too large to fill.
But what remained on the Whitmer roster — a large group of lesser-known but battled-tested seniors — proved to be the cream of the TRAC crop, allowing opponents only 75 points in 10 games.
Led by first-year quarterback starter Nick Holley, Whitmer also excelled on offense, averaging 43.7 points per game.
The Panthers look to match or surpass the efforts of their 2010 and 2011 Whitmer predecessors, who each advanced to D-I state semifinals before losing to the eventual state champion each year.
The 2010 Panthers ended 12-2 after falling to Lakewood St. Edward 23-13, and last year’s Whitmer squad closed at 13-1 after losing to Cleveland St. Ignatius 17-6.
Central, which ended up as the No. 2 seed in Division II, Region 6, also garnered a first-round home game. The Fighting Irish entered the Whitmer game ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press D-II state poll. They will face Grafton Midview (9-1) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Gallagher Stadium.
Irish coach Greg Dempsey has guided his team to nine straight playoff appearances, a run highlighted by Central’s 14-1, D-II state championship team of 2005.
All playoff games in divisions II, IV and VI are scheduled to be played on Fridays with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, and all games in divisions I, III, and V are set to be played on Saturdays at 7 p.m.
Joining the Irish in the D-II postseason field will be Northern Lakes League runner-up Perrysburg (8-2, 6-1 NLL), which secured a No. 5 seed and will travel to face 2011 state runner-up Avon (9-1) in a first-round contest.
In Division III, Region 10, NLL champion Napoleon (9-0-1, 7-0) earned the top seed and will play host to Caledonia River Valley (8-2) in its opener.
The Wildcats of coach Tory Strock, playing just their second season in the NLL, were ranked No. 1 in the latest AP D-III state poll.
Northwest Ohio Athletic League champion Bryan (10-0, 8-0), Ohio’s third-ranked D-III team, took the No. 4 seed and will host perennial state power Columbus Watterson (7-3) in a Region 10 test.
The only area team to qualify for the Division IV playoffs is Northern Buckeye Conference champion Genoa (10-0, 7-0), which earned a No. 3 seed and will host Columbus Ready (7-2). First-year head coach Tim Spiess’ Comets were ranked No. 5 in the latest D-IV state poll.
The playoff field in Region 18 of Division V includes the NWOAL’s other three teams to reach the postseason.
Perennial power and 2005 state champion Patrick Henry (8-2, 6-2 NWOAL) earned a No. 7 seed and will travel to face Toledo Area Athletic Conference champion and sixth-ranked Northwood (10-0, 7-0), Liberty Center (8-2, 6-2 NWOAL) will play at Blanchard Valley Conference runner-up Liberty-Benton (9-1, 8-1), and Archbold (8-2, 6-2 NWOAL) goes on the road to face Columbia Station Columbia (9-1).
In Region 22 of Division VI, TAAC runner-up Ottawa Hills (7-3, 6-1) travels to face seventh-ranked Midland Athletic Conference champion Fremont St. Joseph (9-1, 7-0), and BVC champion McComb (10-0, 9-0), Ohio’s second-ranked D-VI team, plays host to conference foe Arlington (7-3, 6-3).
Narrowly missing playoff berths were Findlay (8-2, 5-2 TRAC), which finished in the No. 9 spot in D-I, Region 2; Oak Harbor (7-3, 5-2) which lost to Sandusky Perkins in their Sandusky Bay Conference title showdown last Friday night to end up No. 10 in D-IV, Region 14; and TAAC third-place finisher Edon (7-3, 5-2), which ended up No. 9 in D-VI, Region 22.
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, or 419-724-6461 or onTwitter @JungaBlade.