Girard at Niles
WHEN: Tonight, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Bo Rein Stadium, Niles.
LAST MEETING: 2013: Niles won, 38-19.
COACHES: Girard: Pat Pearson, first season. Niles: Brian Shaner (13-8 in third season, 57-54 overall).
ABOUT GIRARD: The Indians lost a good chunk of their 6-4 team last year due to graduation. Girard faithful might seem like they are seeing new faces wherever they look, including Pearson taking over as head coach. Pearson was the defensive coordinator for current Girard Athletic Director and former coach Nick Cochran. Offensively, the Indians lost a quarterback who threw for 2,600 yards and a running back who rushed for 1,500 more plus 26 touchdowns. Christian Bello, last year's back-up to quarterback Nick Cardiero, will take the snaps under center, but Jake Ryser, who also plays running back, will play in some Wildcat formations. Treyvon Mills (running back) and Collin Cramer (wide receiver) should see some time on offense as well. However, the offensive line has some returning players, as well as the defense where Pearson could give some much needed guidance. Last year, Niles put up 38 points on the Indians at Arrowhead Stadium. With a seasoned defense, it might be hard for a younger Red Dragons team to duplicate the offensive firepower they had in 2013, especially against Girard.
ABOUT NILES: Gone is the fun-and-gun offense led by Kyle Paden, Trumbull County's record holder for passing yards in a season with 2,927. The Red Dragons' receiving corps has graduated as well - led by Chris Parry, Justin Lopes and Marcus Hill. The offense is now in the hands of sophomore Tyler Srbinovich, who has more of a run-style offense. Shaner is very excited to start Srbinovich under center as he is the future of the Red Dragons offense for the next couple of years. The only problem is he'll be learning on the job as Paden had all of the snaps last season. Running back Corey Hayes, who is the lone skill player to see any time last season, will get most of the carries. Then, Leonard Bryant, Niles' fastest player, should be a good target for Srbinovich. Mostly, the Red Dragons will hang their hat on the offensive line with Matt Binion, Addison Crain, Zach Wilson, Jake Davis and Justin Beatty. Niles' defense is young as well, but Srbinovich had 103 tackles as a freshman at defensive back (this year he moves to outside linebacker). Niles is a young team, so being able to gel quickly as a unit will have to come quickly to avoid a long season.
Warren G. Harding at
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Fitch Falcon Stadium, Austintown.
LAST MEETING: 2013: Fitch won, 48-0.
COACHES: Harding: Steve Arnold (13-6 in third season). Fitch: Phil Annarella (49-27 in his eighth season, 212-127-3 overall).
ABOUT HARDING: The last thing Harding wants to hear or think about is how it lost to Fitch in back-to-back years, let alone getting embarrassed on the field like it did last season. The Raiders went on to a 4-5 record and had its last game of the year cancelled due to an uptick of violence in the city of Warren. One loss Harding has to overcome is its quarterback who graduated, Lamar Carmichael. Arnold is giving over the reins to sophomore Lynn Williams, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound quarterback. Williams will have experience surrounding him. Junior Keemari Murry ran for more than 1,000 yards last year and there are two NCAA Division I recruits on the line in James Daniels and Ja'Von Provitt. Daniels, a 6-4, 300-pound center, has verbally committed to Iowa, while Provitt (6-3, 305) is close to making his decision between Kentucky, Cincinnati and Purdue. However, linebackers and defensive backs are unknowns. That's why the Raiders will have to rely on its defensive line to neutralize Fitch's returning offense, which ran for more than 3,000 yards last year.
ABOUT FITCH: Six. That's how many lettermen the Falcons have back after their best season in school history - 12-1 in 2003. But that doesn't mean Fitch doesn't have returning talent. Just look at their backfield with running back Darrin Hall, who is being courted by plenty of NCAA Division I schools, including Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Arkansas, Northwestern, Boston College, Syracuse, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Hall (6-0, 212) plowed through opposing defenses last season for about 1,500 yards. He is complemented by senior quarterback Antwan Harris, who put up similar rushing numbers in Fitch's spread offense. Tyler Hewlett (5-7, 170) is a scatback that gives a great 1-2 punch with Hall in the Falcons backfield. Joey Harrington, a state and national track qualifier, is Fitch's leading receiver with more than 300 yards with five scores. But the big question marks lie on both sides of the line. The only one returning on the offensive line is senior Matt Fusillo (6-1, 239). The Fitch defense is a serious wild card. Both sides will have to gel quickly to solidify Fitch up front. Linebackers are solid with Hewlett and Damien Gray, who both return from 2013. Getting through Harding's offensive line will be a tall task as both Daniels and Provitt will open up many holes in the Fitch defense for Murry to run through. The Falcons have to find a way to neutralize that and force the Raiders and their young quarterback to throw the ball.
Lakeview at Hubbard
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Hubbard Memorial Stadium, Hubbard.
LAST MEETING: 2013: Hubbard won, 49-12.
COACHES: Lakeview: Tom Pavlansky (96-63 in 16th season). Hubbard: Brian Hoffman (61-20 in eighth season).
ABOUT LAKEVIEW: The Bulldogs came off of the 2013 season on a high. Lakeview won seven of its last eight games, losing in the first round of the playoffs to Struthers. Lakeview lost 10 seniors, but offensively has plenty of experience returning. The Bulldogs are led by multi-faceted junior Angelo Marino, who had more than 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns passing and 752 yards and nine scores rushing. He's looking to surpass that in 2014. Senior Michael Mannella, who rushed for 955 yards and 11 touchdowns last season is looking to be the first Lakeview running back since Te Elias to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. When Marino takes to the air, his first look will be to Ryan Pishotti, who had 19 catches for 253 yards and two scores in 2013. Complementing the seasoned offense will be the offensive line anchored by 6-1, 300-pound senior center Logan Angus. The linebackers and defense backs are pretty solid, but the big question mark for Lakeview is its defensive line. It'll need to shore up quite quickly against a Hubbard team that has arguably the best backfield in the state with senior L.J. Scott, who verbally committed to Michigan State, and junior George Hill, who made his commitment to Ohio State.
ABOUT HUBBARD: Scott and Hill are two of five NCAA Division I recruits on this Eagles team being seen by many as the team to beat in Division III, Region 7 - even over vaunted St. Vincent-St. Mary, which has run roughshod over the other teams in the region. Scott (6-1, 230) rushed for 1,867 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, while Hill (6-1, 195) complemented him with 1,175 yards and 15 scores of his own. Look for Tyreek Daniels (5-11, 250) to open up holes for Scott and Hill at fullback. Even though Hubbard is still deciding between Cam Ingram and Dom Pantone at quarterback, the Eagles are solid at receiver with Isiah Scott (6-3, 200) and his 18 receptions, 230 yards and seven scores last season. He may join his brother at MSU, but there are other possibilities for the talented senior receiver. Like most offenses, the heart of it is on the line. It's no different for Hubbard as it has senior guard Matt Jones (6-4, 305), who is committed to West Virginia. Both he and Zach Hover (5-11, 270) will be mainstays on both lines. Then at linebacker, senior Tyler Taafe (6-2, 220) is the go-to player in the Eagles' defense and is heading to Toledo next season. It's that defense that will have to neutralize the mobility of Marino and shut down Mannella early and often to take control of Friday's game against Lakeview.
Brookfield at Springfield
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Tiger Stadium, New Middletown.
LAST MEETING: 2013: Brookfield won, 30-27.
COACHES: Brookfield: Randy Clark (53-24 in 10th season). Springfield: Sean Guerriero (34-37 in eighth season).
ABOUT BROOKFIELD: The Warriors have qualified for the postseason for three straight years after a long drought prior to their recent success. Junior Augustus Necastro returns under center after throwing for almost 1,400 yards last season. Senior Nate Morrison returns in the backfield with his 567 yards and 7.8 yards per carry. He and junior Kasey Tingler are a good combo on the outside and gives Necastro good targets in the Brookfield offense. The Warriors have a junior Jacob Jackson (6-6, 305) up front on the offensive line with plenty of returners like Josh Sinkuc and Carmen Furillo. Jamar Tarver is switching to defensive end, giving some speed to those slots. Brookfield is also young and experienced on the rest of the defense. Last season against Springfield, Brookfield rallied in the second half and capped it with a last-second field goal by Tingler.
ABOUT SPRINGFIELD: Senior Ryan Kohler had 1,300 yards rushing last season and leads the Tigers offense. Junior Graham Mincher, who was a back-up last year and played in the second half against Brookfield, is this year's starting QB. Mincher came in for graduated senior Hunter Snyder, who suffered, like many that night, from heat exhaustion. Snyder's case was worse than the other cases and held him out of the first half. Springfield dominated the first half of last year's game, but saw things slip away and gave up 24 points in the fourth quarter as Brookfield edged the Tigers, who is coming off a 7-3 season.
John F. Kennedy at
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Beaver Township.
LAST MEETING: 2013: South Range won, 34-30.
COACHES: JFK: Jeff Bayuk (first season, 155-94 overall). South Range: Dan Yeagley (163-53 in 20th season).
ABOUT KENNEDY: Lefty senior quarterback Michael Roscoe returns as a dual threat for the Eagles. He will be relied upon to lead the Kennedy offense once again. The 5-10, 180-pound QB was 108 for 198 with 1,518 yards with seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2013. He added 722 yards rushing with 12 scores. Bayuk has to go with a running back by committee this year and move players like Dante Munno and Royal Smith move to wide receiver. Both side of the line are inexperienced, but Ross Nocera returns with 81 tackles at linebacker. Smith and Jacob Coates, both speedsters, are in the defensive secondary. Last season, South Range rallied for a last-second 34-30 victory in Warren.
ABOUT SOUTH RANGE: The Raiders have been one of the teams to beat in the Inter Tri-County League for many years. South Range has to replace some key spots vacated by graduation, but it has some key people on offense with center Evan Schafer (5-9, 220) to pace the I-formation. Quarterback Ryan Miller returns, as does fullback David McCabe and feature back Joe Alessi. The Raiders are coming off an 11-1 season and hopes to keep up their winning ways this season.
Salem at Mineral Ridge
WHEN: Tonight, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Joe Lane Stadium, Mineral Ridge.
LAST MEETING: First meeting.
COACHES: Salem: Ron Johnson (3-17 in third season; 76-91 overall). Mineral Ridge: Jeff Whittaker (first season, 100-82 overall).
ABOUT SALEM: The Quakers have went 3-17 in the past two seasons, but hope to turn things around this season under its third-year head coach. Logan Joy will be the team's quarterback and will be protected by juniors Keaton Turney (6-2, 220) and Alex Sosbe (6-0, 289). Returning players Trace Jenkins and Blake Hochadel will be targets for Joy, but the running back slot is still up in the air. Linebacker Mike Ciotti and strong safety Jake Bezon are the keys to the Salem defense.
ABOUT MINERAL RIDGE: Junior Mac White is a newbie under center, but Whittaker sees him as a typical West Coast quarterback. Slashing running back Sam Kooyman and bashing back Nick Ferguson plans to give some stability in the offensive backfield. Tait Rummell could give breakaway speed and rotates in the backfield. Jonnathan Bourgoin and Tracy Cross provides White with some targets at wide receivers. But, the biggest asset for the Rams is the their offensive line led by an athletic Micah Hawout, who is 6-4, 275. Ferguson is a mainstay at linebacker with 81 stops a year ago, while Rummell will cover plenty of ground at free safety.