Howland to face tough task in Akron Hoban

WARREN — When Dominic Menendez took over for longtime mentor Dick Angle as head football coach at Howland High School four years ago, his goal was to reach the postseason.

Now that he’s made it after a few close calls, he realizes he better watch what he asks for.

The seventh-seeded Tigers (7-3) face returning Division III state champion Akron Hoban (9-1) in the first round of the Division III, Region 9 playoffs at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Knights’ Dowed Field.

“It was good till we found out we had to go to Hoban,” joked Menendez of the feeling when he found out Howland qualified for the playoffs. “No. It’s a great feeling. These kids have been working for this for three years, so it’s rewarding for them. I told them today, ‘It’s an honor and a privilege — not a right — and they earned it.’ “

Howland did it with a great second half to the season. The Tigers started off 0-2 before rattling off seven straight wins in which they averaged 35 points per game. Aside from standouts like running back Tyriq Ellis (995 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) and Victor Williams (391 rushing yards, 535 receiving and nine total TDs), there was the emergence of junior quarterback Samari Dean.

Dean took over as the full-time quarterback early in the season and completed 49-of-78 passes (64 percent) for 830 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception.

“He definitely added a spark to the offense,” Menendez said. “He became a dual threat for us, which was something we were lacking. It added another dimension to (our offense).”

He and the rest of Howland need to be on their game against Hoban.

The Knights’ boast highly recruited quarterback Danny Clark, a 6-4, 230-pound senior who decommitted from Ohio State in September and now appears headed to Kentucky. Clark has completed 100-of-162 passes (62 percent) for 1,803 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He’s also run for 10 TDs. Tailback Todd Sidely has 1,521 yards and 14 TDs on 208 attempts. They’re part of an offense averaging 33.4 points per game, but offense probably isn’t even Hoban’s biggest strength.

Despite a schedule loaded with some of the state’s toughest teams, the Knight’s allowed just nine points per game and pitched shutouts in two of their last three games.

“Their front seven is going to be the best we’ve seen all year,” Menendez said. “Their down tackle, he’s a penetrator and he’s tough to block. Around him, their linebackers are very good.

“They’re old-school, thumper-type kids, and they come downhill and plug up holes.”

Hoban coach Tim Tyrrell is a longtime friend of Menendez. Both graduated from Ursuline High School, Tyrrell in 1993 and Menendez in 1996. They each played under Angle, and the two still talk fairly regularly.

Tyrrell, who can’t coach in this game because of an OHSAA violation, has plenty of praise for Howland.

“They’re as athletic as anyone we’re going to see,” Tyrrell said. “They have three guys on offense (Dean, Ellis and Williams) who are as good as anyone I’ve seen this year.”

Still, the Tigers enter the game as likely underdogs.

That doesn’t mean Menendez and a team that’s ready to relieve three years of frustration is going to back down.

“They’re kids just like we have kids,” Menendez said. “They’re a beatable football team, but you’ve got to do everything right. You have to limit the turnovers and the mental mistakes, and you have to take advantage of the opportunities that they give you. In order to do that, we have to be disciplined and eliminate penalties and those types of things, and hopefully we can exploit some areas in the special teams.”

The victor plays the winner of the Dover-St.Vincent-St. Mary matchup in the regional semifinal.