After Saturday night's slate of high school football games wrapped up, there are now four area teams left battling for a coveted state football title. Now the question looms - will any of these squads make it to Week 15 and bring the state championship trophy back to the Mahoning Valley?
Without a doubt the team that has the hardest road ahead of them is Hubbard, the lone Trumbull County school remaining. With their victory over Aurora on Friday night, the Eagles won the right face the defending Division III state champion, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
While the Irish have proven they have the caliber to win another state title, Hubbard is likely to give them one of the toughest battles they have faced this season - except when they faced Massillon in Week 9.
While the Irish boast one of the toughest defenses in the state, led by linebacker Dante Booker, Hubbard brings an offensive cabinet full of weapons to use at its disposal.
At the forefront of the Hubbard offense is running back L.J. Scott, who is gathering many Division I offers from colleges around the country as a junior. But add to the mix running back George Hill, quarterback Brennan Wassil, and Mr. Do-It-All Darnell Tate, and the Eagles will pose a major threat offensively to SV-SM.
For Hubbard to have a chance against the Irish on Friday at a site to be announced this afternoon, the defense will need to play its biggest game of the season and try to stop Ohio State-bound running back Parris Campbell.
Can the Eagles pull off the upset? Possibly. But to do it, they will need to play their best game of the season.
If Hubbard has the toughest test this week, Austintown Fitch might be facing just as hard of an opponent in St. Edward. The Eagles, a favorite to win the state title in Division I, handled Cleveland Heights on Saturday, while Fitch had to rally to defeat Westerville Central.
This will be the week football fans will find out if Fitch is on the level of the elite teams in the state. No matter what year it is, St. Edward is one of the best programs in Ohio while Fitch was a surprise team to many in the area. The undefeated Falcons will go into the game as the underdog as the Eagles are the No. 1 seeded team in Division I, Region 1 and like Hubbard, will need to play its best game of the year to advance to the state semifinals.
Western Reserve's toughest opponent won't come until the state level, but the foe the Blue Devils will face next week is just as formidable as any. Norwalk St. Paul shut out Wellsville Saturday night and bring a high-powered offense to the table. Like Western Reserve's game on Saturday night, it will be high scoring and the team that can capitalize on mistakes will likely win.
What Western Reserve does have is playoff experience. Many of the seniors on this team were a part of the 2011 state run the Blue Devils made, which running back/linebacker Dan Zilke said after Saturday's win is a big reason why this team knows how to fight and what it takes to win. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.
As for the fourth school, Cardinal Mooney is always a wild card when it comes to the playoffs. A Division IV team that plays a Division I and II schedule, the Cardinals have without a doubt already been battled tested this year. It's time to see if that will pay off when they face Cleveland Benedictine Friday night. The Bengals have a better record than the Cardinals, but haven't played as strong of a schedule.
Will any teams advance to Canton for a state championship game? It's very possible. But to do that, all teams will have to play tough Week 13 matchups to get there. Then, it will be time to see what the rest of the state has to offer.