COVID brings weird mix for fans in 2020 season
The final week of October was originally scheduled to be the final week of the regular season for all high school football teams in Ohio.
COVID played a nasty trick on the schedule-makers, so instead fans will be treated to a mixture of regional finals, regional semifinals and regular season games.
Tonight, the field of Division I playoff participants will be narrowed down to four as regional title games take place in Mentor, Pickerington, Springfield and West Chester.
In the remaining six divisions, the regional semifinal round will be played out over the course of the next two days.
Playoff games involving area schools include Warren G. Harding at Hudson, Canfield at Streetsboro, Ursuline at Po-
land, Crestview at South Range, Mogadore at Springfield, Dalton at John F. Kennedy and McDonald at Lucas.
Roughly 17 area schools that have been eliminated from the tournament
are scheduled to play regular season games this weekend.
HOPING TO REPEAT HISTORY
A year ago, Poland lost two of its first three games, then won 10 straight en route to the state semifinals.
This year, the Bulldogs (7-1) opened the season with a 24-21 loss at South Range. The ‘Dogs have since reeled off seven consecutive wins. On Saturday Poland will host Ursuline in a Division IV, region 13 semifinal.
“This is all about the resolve of our seniors, who were determined to do whatever it takes to make their mark on this program,” Poland coach Ryan Williams said. “We’ve never been through anything like this season. Nothing feels normal. Yet these kids never lost focus.”
The Poland football program was shut down in mid-August due to a positive COVID test. Practice resumed less than a week prior to its game with South Range.
“We just fought through it all largely because this group is so tight-knit,” Williams said. “These kids grew up together, they’ve been playing together since Little League. They leaned on each other, they know they can count on each other to get through anything that comes their way.”
Williams noted that last year’s deep playoff run is also paying dividends this season.
“No doubt, the experiences of last November are helping out,” Williams said. “You draw from the wisdom and the lessons learned from the past. Last week when we were being pressed by Salem, we didn’t get rattled. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that we’ve been through this before.”
While an all-local playoff match-up such as Poland-Ursuline creates additional excitement among area fans, Williams insists it is not a distraction with the Bulldogs.
“We rarely talk about who we’re playing, our focus is always on Poland and on making ourselves a better football team throughout the week,” Williams said.
BACK FOR MORE
Following last year’s 21-20 home overtime win over McDonald, Lucas head coach Scott Spitler was quoted as saying, “McDonald has some war daddies on that team, they’ll be back.”
Spitler’s words proved to be prophetic.
Tonight, McDonald returns to Lucas where the Blue Devils hope to gain revenge on two fronts.
Four months after Lucas knocked McDonald out of the football playoffs, the Cubs’ basketball team defeated the Blue Devils 47-45 in a regional semifinal game.
“We have a handful of players who were on both the football and basketball teams last year, so there has definitely been some talk among those guys about revenge and all that,” said McDonald coach Dan Williams. “The thing is, these are different teams. Lucas had eight seniors last year who are now gone. We’re a much more experienced team than we were a year ago.”
“As coaches, as a team, we approach this as we would any other opponent. But certainly for the kids and the fans there is some added excitement.”
In last year’s game, McDonald and Lucas were tied 7-7 at halftime. McDonald went ahead 14-7, then the Cubs marched 90 yards on 10 plays to tie the game.
Both teams scored touchdowns in the extra session. Following McDonald’s score, Williams opted to try a two-point conversion to win the game.
“We just felt like we were out of gas at that time and going for two was our best chance at a win,” Williams said.
Williams believes that last year’s meeting will benefit McDonald’s chances this time around.
“Lucas runs a very unorthodox offense, something we hadn’t seen in 20 years,” Williams said. “They are so tough to stop, they are so good at what they do. They have different personnel this year, but hopefully we are quicker to adjust to what they do, having seen it before.”
Even though the regular season is not yet officially over, at least four area programs will be looking for new leaders during the off-season.
Last week Liberty coach Chet Allen and Valley Christian coach Jomont Ware stepped down from their respective programs. Allen coached six years at Liberty, compiling a 27-31 record. Ware spent four seasons at Valley Christian, going 14-26 with three playoff appearances.
Earlier this week, Champion coach Tim McGlynn stepped down after three years with the Golden Flashes. Champion went 11-14 under McGlynn, including a 7-3 finish in 2019. Also this week, Youngstown East athletic director Tanisha Franklin announced that Brian Marrow’s contract would not be renewed. Marrow coached the Golden Bears for four years (12-26 record). In 2018 he guided the Bears to a playoff appearance and a 7-4 season.