McDonald, Leetonia both run the ball well
LEETONIA — Tonight’s Division VII playoff match is a battle of a program on the rise against a program that has had one losing record since the turn of the century.
Fresh off their first playoff win since 2004, the Leetonia Bears host their former Inter Tri-County League rivals McDonald.
The Bears, who were voted 10th in the AP Division VII state poll, have seen a huge turnaround since the hiring of coach Paul Hulea.
He’s prepared the kids for what will be the toughest game for the program in a while, by reminding them that every game from here on out is going to be tougher.
“One reality of playing football is that every week the teams you play, keep moving on and the teams get better,” Hulea said. “They don’t get worse.
“McDonald’s a great, great football team. They have a great program and they’ve got several great players. We’re going to have to have an outstanding effort from our guys to be able to compete against them.”
The Blue Devils (6-1), have only lost once this season, dropping a 49-13 contest to Springfield and are coming off a 26-14 win over Jackson-Milton in the first round.
“We played progressively better as the season went along, like every coach wants to see happen,” McDonald coach Dan Williams said. “Playing our best football come playoff time. We played real well last week, we just made too many mistakes early on … I think our season has progressed really well, like we’ve expected it to.”
Bears running back Marco Ferry has been a force all season for Leetonia, scoring four touchdowns for the Bears in their playoff win over Buckeye Central a week prior.
For the Blue Devils to leave with a win, Williams says his team needs to be able to shut down the run.
“They’re most effective when they’re able to run the ball with Ferry and when he gains some yards and scores touchdowns they’re really effective, and they’re tough to beat, so we’re going to have to limit their running attack,” he said.
McDonald’s regular season schedule provided a solid preparation for a good run game, as the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Scarlet Tier has multiple teams with a good rushing attacks, including the Blue Jays, who they just beat.
“That’s an advantage,” Williams said. “Week in and week out we battled against good running football teams. Jackson-Milton did a nice job a week ago. That (Sean) Lengyel kid is a heck of a runner and they have a big, strong line. A lot of similarities between Jackson-Milton and Leetonia.”
On the other side of the field, Leetonia’s plan going into this game is to not give McDonald any gifts. Ball security is the top priority.
“I know it’s a coaching cliche, but the big thing is we’ve got to take care of the football,” Hulea said. “We’ve got to take care of the football and not give them a short field. We can’t help them out any. We stressed that to our skill guys. Defensively, we’ve got to rally, because their quarterback (Dom Schadl) is outstanding. We’re going to have to really rally and do a great job of tackling him.”
The Bears have gone from 0-10 in 2017, the season before Hulea’s hiring, to 6-1 this season. The growth the team has shown in that time has surprised even the coaching staff.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of things this year that, when we started out three years ago, we didn’t know we’d be at this point,” Hulea said. “We actually got the first playoff win in this new league. The league is 1-11 and we have the winner. We could be the answer to a trivia question.
“It’s exciting. We’re happy for the kids. They’re jazzed up, they’re excited about moving on and they deserve it. They’re a great group of young men and they have great workouts and they enjoy going to practice every day.”
Last week’s win over the Blue Jays was possibly the last game held at A.A. Burkey Stadium, as the new stadium is likely to be up and running for next season. While the team wishes they could remain at home, being the underdog on the road isn’t something that scares them.
“It’s a great matchup,” Williams said. “We wish we were on our home site of course, but going on the road and being the underdog, our kids are up for that challenge.”
The winner of this game will advance to the regional semifinal where they will take on either second-seeded Lucas or 10th-seeded Independence.