Playoff picture finalized
Fitch, Harding to rematch Friday; LaBrae earns first-ever 1st seed
On Sunday the Ohio High School Athletic Association released the official pairings for the first round of the football playoffs. Across the state, 448 schools qualified for the 50th annual tournament due to the expanded playoffs.
In the Mahoning Valley, 21 schools made the postseason, including LaBrae, the top seed in Division VI, Region 21, and Division V, Region 17’s South Range, who is the second seed behind state powerhouse Kirtland.
The Raiders, who just capped off a perfect regular season, open the postseason with Rootstown. Region 17 is one of the toughest in the state and features four undefeated teams that make up the top four seeds.
Kirtland (9-0), South Range, Sugarcreek Garaway and Garfield (all 10-0) make up the top four. Two one-loss teams, Bellaire (9-1) and Ravenna Southeast (8-1) round out the top six.
“It’s a loaded region,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “You got some teams down below like a Rootstown who plays a pretty good schedule and you got some other teams down here that are very very good football teams. Some good football teams that could cause some problems for some of these higher seeds so it’s going to be a tough battle, it’s a tough region.”
The other very tough region is Region 21. Always a heated battle for eight spots, it remained a tough fight for 16 spots. LaBrae achieved a school first by securing a top seed in the football playoffs.
While the Vikings face a 3-7 Trinity team, coach John Armeni assured there’s no easy outs in the region. He even mentioned how they’re going into the playoffs with an underdog mentality.
“Our message to our guys is to remain the hunter,” he said. “As long as there’s a Beau Brungard and Springfield in your region, they’re going to be the favorites. There’s certainly some other very talented teams, so it’s nice to be number one, but after those initial rankings come out, everybody’s kind of on equal footing.”
While the expanded playoffs has been a controversial move, Austintown Fitch coach T.J. Parker mentioned how the 16-team postseason has its benefits for schools that play gauntlet schedules like their opponents — Warren G. Harding — on Friday.
“I guess it’s assumed that because now there’s 16 teams, that there’s all these bad matchups, but there’s a lot of good teams in the history that haven’t made the playoffs in their region,” Parker said. “Harding is a very, very good football team, and in my mind they’re a top eight team in our region. They just played a really tough schedule.
“That’s how we look at them. I think they’re the best team in the bottom eight. Anytime you’re in the playoffs, you’re going to have to win big games and ours just happens to come in round one and then every game after that.”
Harding and Fitch are set to collide again this Friday in Austintown, after the Falcons dispatched the Raiders in Warren last Friday night 41-33.
If any team has been battle-tested this season, it’s the Raiders. After facing teams like Medina, Massillon and Hudson, coach Steve Arnold says their success in Week 11 and beyond will have to come from consistency and preparation.
“Just a belief and trust in what we’re doing, and having confidence in that,” Arnold said. “I think it starts with preparation during the course of a week. You just can’t come out there on Friday night and act like you’ll get it done. That’s why it’s imperative that we have a great week of preparation.”
Other area teams hosting first round matchups are Canfield and Hubbard in Division III, Region 9; Ursuline, top-seeded West Branch and Salem in Division IV, Region 13; Springfield in Division IV, Region 21 and Kennedy in Division VII, Region 25.
An interesting matchup to watch is ninth-seeded Brookfield as it travels to Hanoverton United to take on the Golden Eagles in Division VI.
Divisions I, II, III and IV play Friday, while Divisions V, VI and VII play Saturday. The first- and second-round games are hosted by the better seeded team before moving to a neutral site for the regional semifinals and later.
Most games are set for 7 p.m. start times, but there are a few games set for Saturday afternoon due to lighting conditions. Crestview and Girard will both be afternoon games.