Regular season preps Garfield for South Range

A Division V, Region 17 first-round playoff matchup Saturday night pitting top-seeded South Range hosting the No. 8-seeded Garfield G-Men is a battle of two teams with completely different expectations coming into the season.

For Garfield (7-3), it’s motto for 2016 was “playoffs or bust.” The G-Men were on the outside looking in a year ago and, for 2016, their squad features 14 seniors, meaning the time was now or never.

“That’s the challenge of our schedule,” coach Mike Moser said. “We didn’t have time to hang our heads (when things got tough). We lost Week 10, but I don’t think we took a step back. We did most of our work early on in the season, but the potential (for us to get better) is still there.”

The G-Men started the season 6-0 and found themselves ranked as high as second in the region, but for the second year in a row, Mogadore and Crestwood came calling. Garfield lost to both teams in 2015 and did not have a single win against a team with a winning record. After eight weeks this year, history appeared to be repeating itself.

But Garfield beat 6-4 Rootstown in Week 9, before dropping their third game in four weeks in Week 10, to yet another 6-4 squad. The G-Men lost 31-24 in overtime to Southeast, but they were still able to sneak into the postseason as the eighth and final team in their region.

“We can’t turn the ball over,” Moser said of his team’s playoff chances. “In all of our losses, those turnovers cost us. We can’t do that against South Range. They’re a good running team and coach Yeagley is a great coach. We’ll have to tackle better to give ourselves a chance.”

As for South Range (9-1), while it has certainly become a staple of the postseason over the last several years, coach Dan Yeagley had no idea what to expect from his Raiders in 2016.

In fact, South Range had surprisingly missed the postseason in both 2014 and ’15, and the 2016 edition of his team had major question marks, as well.

“We were returning a lot of skill players, but we were only getting one offensive lineman back,” Yeagley said.

“It was very exciting (to clinch the No. 1 seed). The kids have worked so hard all season. We had the little slip-up against Springfield, but even they are a two-seed in their region.”

The Springfield loss happened back in Week 6, when the Raiders traveled to Springfield Local and missed a field goal to win the game. Eventually, the game went to overtime and South Range found itself on the losing side of the coin, 34-27.

Yeagley, who said that his team needed to improve on its focus, has not lost since then, tearing off four straight victories, including blowouts over 8-2 Indian Creek and 6-4 East Palestine over their final two games of the regular season.

One of the reasons for his Raiders’ success is team unity.

“They are together, playing for each other,” Yeagley said. “They play good offense and good defense, and the special teams are just fantastic.”

While the offense and special teams have certainly been strong for South Range, the defense may just have its hands full the most on Saturday night. The G-Men’s powerful offense features quarterback Dalton Fall, who’s thrown for 2,007 yards and 28 touchdowns, the receiving tandem of Tom Bissler (40 catches, 616 yards, six TDs) and Seth Morgan (39 catches, 648 yards, seven TDs) and running back Kyle Borrelli (548 yards).

For Yeagley, however, this isn’t his squad’s first time trying to defend a potent passing game this season.

“They (Garfield) have a pretty good quarterback, he’s like 6-foot-4, 230 pounds,” Yeagley said, laughing. “But we faced a couple of good passing teams in Springfield and East Palestine. Parker Sherry (East Palestine) might be the best quarterback we’ve faced (so far). We’ll definitely need to improve our secondary coverage to beat Garfield.”