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Top matchups of Weeks 7 and 8

In just three weeks, the high school football season will have officially kicked off.

Continuing with our weekly series each Friday, here’s a look at some of the most intriguing matchups of Weeks 7 and 8, a point in the season during which teams will be jockeying for important playoff positioning.

Week 7

Harding at Boardman

A season ago, these two teams played a competitive, defensive battle that Harding won 21-10.

This season, both teams will feature some new faces. Harding graduated star receivers Dom Foster and Tyirq Ivory, while Boardman is tasked with replacing a pair of studs from its 2021 season in Cam Thompson and Anthony Hightower.

The Raiders bring back quarterback Dalys Jett and feature star tailback Ryan Powell, a pair of athletes receiving plenty of Division I interest.

Boardman, under first-year coach DJ Dota, has the bulk of its offensive line back this season. That will help as the Spartans retool at the skill positions.

With both teams sitting in Division II, Region 5, some critical playoff points will be on the table, too.

Girard at Poland

This one could be a pivotal matchup for the Northeast-8 standings.

A season ago, Poland used a night of big plays and gaudy rushing numbers to double up the Indians, 42-21.

But, the Bulldogs will be tasked with retooling a roster that was senior-laden a season ago, but bring back a couple crucial linemen.

Girard, meanwhile, is rebuilding its offensive line in select spots, but brings back pretty much all of its skill position experience. That starts with Nic Bengala at quarterback and Michael Palmer all over the field.

How well Poland’s new-look unit comes together will be tested when the Bulldogs host Girard.

Liberty at Champion

In one of the area’s most competitive matchups in 2021, Liberty used a last-minute touchdown to stun the Flashes, 27-24. This year’s game could be more of the same.

The Flashes bring back Joey Fell at quarterback. He threw for 1,334 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago, and added 817 yards rushing and nine scores on the ground. His favorite target, Nicholas Vesey, also returns after grabbing 29 receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns last year.

Liberty, meanwhile, has Chris Cunningham back after the receiver hauled in 53 receptions for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns, all team highs, and added 27 carries for 152 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

He leads a set of skill players the Leopards will rely on as they seek to retool their offensive front.

Liberty stood just one win away from qualifying for the 2021 playoffs, so securing a victory in this matchup will be paramount for the Leopards. Champion, meanwhile, will look to get back on solid footing after going 2-8 last year.

Week 8

Ursuline at Villa Angela-St. Joseph

A season ago, VASJ came to Stambaugh Stadium and outmuscled Ursuline in a 46-28 romp. It was the Irish’s last loss until the state championship game. No doubt, those returning from the 2021 Irish team will have this one circled on the calendar.

It also was a last-minute matchup, as Ursuline originally was to play Boardman before that game was canceled just two days before kickoff. VASJ was available, and the teams squared off.

Ursuline loses a bit of its firepower from last year — quarterback Brady Shannon, tailback DeMarcus McElroy and receivers Dean Boyd and Jakylan Irving all graduated — but plenty of experience returns.

Marc Manning is back at receiver, and Christian Lynch got valuable experience at RB2 behind McElroy a season ago. Expect them to contribute to this Irish season.

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