Charlie Harris leads Napoleon with 833 yards rushing. The Wildcats captured the NLL title.
A Napoleon-Bryan matchup in the second round of the Division III football playoffs represents more than just another meeting between two longtime foes.
Bryan's Elijah Bogosian has 52 catches for 705 yards. The Golden Bears won the NWOAL championship.
This is a clash between two undefeated teams looking to make this tournament run their best ever.
The two schools met regularly years ago when Napoleon was a member of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. Even after Napoleon left the NWOAL, the they continued to meet but were unable to schedule each other the last two seasons after the Wildcats joined the Northern Lakes League.
The Golden Bears (11-0) are riding high after a 41-24 triumph over Columbus Bishop Watterson in a first-round matchup that represented the first postseason win in school history.
"There's a lot of excitement in the community and within the team," said Bryan coach Kevin Kline. "It's been a lot of fun and I think these kids want to keep that going."
The significance of this postseason pairing is quite clear to Napoleon coach Tory Strock.
"This is big because we've never been in the third round of the playoffs," said Strock, whose Wildcats (10-0-1) topped River Valley 30-6 in a first-round contest. "We've got a chance to make history by making it to the third round.
"Bryan made history last week and they're looking to add to their history. We're looking to make some of our own."
Something will definitely give when the two teams play Saturday at Central Catholic.
The Bears, who won the NWOAL championship, have been lethal offensively, averaging approximately 400 total yards and 44 points per game.
Quarterback Austin Schimmoeller has been stellar as the Bears' offensive conductor. He's completed 144 of 227 passes (63 percent) for 2,154 yards, including 21 touchdowns while being intercepted only seven times. Schimmoeller's 1,258 rushing yards on 160 attempts, including 21 TDs, makes it difficult to limit the focus on trying to stop his passing.
"When you look at Austin Schimmoeller, he's a phenomenal athlete and our offense is structured around him," Kline said. "He'll be the first to tell you about how important our offensive line is to what he's able to do, but he's our trigger man. He's a tremendous competitor and in crunch time he's been ready to step up for us."
Elijah Bogosian has served as Schimmoeller's most likely target, hauling in a team-leading 52 catches for 705 yards and three touchdowns.
Yet, Schimmoeller's play has made it clear he's not been locked in on a single target. Five others have registered double-digit receptions. Daniel Pendergrast has caught 22 passes for 352 yards, which includes a team-best five TDs.
Derek Knisley (21 catches for 350 yards), Sean Culler (20 for 341), Brandon Poncsak (14 for 221), and Collin Bacon (11 for 159) have also been reliable receivers.
Bacon (650 rushing yards, 14 TDs), Pendergrast (346 rushing yards) and Minor (109 rushing yards) have combined for better than 1,000 rushing yards.
Strock believes playing in the Northern Lakes League has prepared the Wildcats defensively for a matchup against an offense like the Golden Bears.
"We've got great team speed on defense," Strock said. "Playing in the NLL, we've seen great scrambling quarterbacks."
Nonetheless, the Bears have been stout defensively for most of the season, limiting opponents to an average of 13.8 points per game.
Jake Jones and Brock Minor have delivered on the defensive side.
Jones leads the Northwest Ohio Athletic League champions with a team-high 121tackles, including 78 unassisted and a team-high 17 for loss of yardage.
Minor has 102 total tackles, including 62 unassisted.
Blake Kuszmaul (74 tackles), Travis Peters (69), and Matt Frame (62) have also made it difficult for opponents to establish any consistent offensive play.
Napoleon's perfect regular season included a game that was never played. In week 3, a contest against Kettering Alter was ruled a 0-0 tie with Alter after the game was canceled because of inclement weather.
Napoleon has leaned on its running game, led by Charlie Harris, who has averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. He leads the Wildcats with 833 rushing yards on 88 carries.
Max Westhoven has gained 408 yards on the ground with 71 carries, and Bryant Schlade has provided 350 yards on 50 totes for the Northern Lakes League champions, who have averaged 34 points per contest.
David Yunker has been a steady signal-caller for Napoleon, completing 27 of 44 passes for 494 yards, including eight TDs.
"He's done a great job of managing the game," Strock said, of Yunker. "He never tries to do too much and he's unbelievably composed. You can't rattle him."
Wideout Jordan Lauf has been key in the Wildcats passing attack. He leads Napoleon with a team-high 27 receptions for a team-best 617 receiving yards.
More significantly, Lauf, who has already committed to play basketball at the University of Toledo, has been a scoring machine in the passing game. Thirteen of his 14 touchdowns have come as receptions, which is roughly a touchdown every other reception.
"Jordan kind of dictates how the defense is going to play us," Strock said. "He's been a tough matchup."
Defensively, that's where Napoleon has particularly thrived this season.
The Wildcats have held their opponents to 15 points per game. They've held seven of their 11 opponents to 14 points or less.
Westhoven leads the way with a team-best 56 tackles, including 23 unassisted.
Anson Lankenau is second with 45 tackles, followed by Nick George (30), Harris (27), and Lauf (25).
Contact Donald Emmons at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.
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