The Ohio high school football playoffs start this Friday, where 32 teams in seven divisions have dreams of going to Columbus and raising the state championship trophy. Some have better chances than others, and some teams in each of their divisions can be called odds on favorites to win it all. The seedings for the first round games are out, and while there are some very intriguing first round match-ups, the real fun should begin in the second round, where the games could be worthy of state semi-finals or even finals.
So, who is going to take home the hardware in each division?
Some are easier to call than others, while some divisions are down right impossible to try and gauge who may win. That is what makes high school football in Ohio so great. The fact that there are a plethora of good teams, and a plethora of great games along the way.
Division VII…. This is the easiest to call, and the easiest to call by a mile. The title is Maria Stein Marion Local’s to lose. The Flyers have won three state championships in a row in the small school division, and by the looks of this year’s team, a fourth may be on its way. Jacy Gottemoeller leads the offense attack from his tailback position, and the Flyers defense is a stout as they usually are. It would be a Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas type upset if the Flyers do not win the state title. In Region 26, two teams could give Marion Local at least some pause. Second seeded Lehman Catholic, and fifth seeded Fort Recovery. Fort Recovery is in the same conference as Marion Local, so they would have some sort of familiarity with the Flyers. Other teams to watch outside of Region 26 would be last year’s state runners-up Glouster-Trimble, Shadyside, who reached the state title game three years ago, Norwalk St. Paul, a traditional small school power, and Arlington
Examiner pick: Marion Local
Division VI…. The defending champion in Division VI are the Kirtland Hornets. Kirtland has been on quite a run over the last four years. They have won 53 of their last 54 games, with the only loss being in the state championship two years ago to Coldwater. Adam Hess, Matthew Finkler, Sam Skiljan, and a strong offensive line return in trying to become repeat champions. The road won’t be easy, as there are many landmines that await the Hornets. Within their own region, Kirtland could run into Cleveland’s VASJ in the regional semi-final and either undefeated teams Mogadore or Loudenville in the regional final. Outside of their region, keep an eye on the winner of the first round game between Haviland Wayne Trace, runners-up to Kirtland last season, and Defiance Tinora, a team with by far the best defense in Division VI. The winner of that game could give Kirtland all they can handle in the state semi-final. Get through that, and undefeated teams Fredrickstown or Cincinnati Country Day may await. Don’t close your eyes to Region 22 teams Versallies and Minster. Both of them have played a very difficult schedule in the state’s best conference, the Midwest Athletic Conference.
Examiner pick: Kirtland
Division V…. Defending champion Coldwater looks for their third straight state championship in Division V. The Cavaliers own the postseason, as they have been to the state final in five straight years. The current seniors were in seventh grade the last time Coldwater didn’t play the maximum of 15 games a year. Quarterback/safety Brody Hoying may be the best player in Western Ohio, regardless of Division. He can carry a team, as he did in last year’s state final win over Columbus Bishop Hartley. The Cavaliers have a difficult road this season. In the second round, they should have to play top seeded Huron, followed by a game against traditional powers Findlay Liberty-Benton or Marion Pleasant. That gets them into a potential match-up with Canton Central Catholic. The Crusaders of Canton Central Catholic are undefeated, and maybe boast the most impressive resume of anyone in Division V. They own victories over three Division I teams, including a win over a 7-3 New Philadelphia team. Other teams that could surprise would be Columbus Bishop Hartley, Youngstown Ursuline, Wheelersburg, and St. Clairsville.
Examiner pick: Canton Central Catholic
Division IV…. This may be the toughest Division of all to predict. Clarksville Clinton-Massie is the defending champion, and is seeded second in their region. The top seed is Kettering Alter, and a game between the Falcons of Clinton-Massie and the Knights of Alter in the Region 14 final is worthy of a state final. Massie rallied in last year’s game to win late, and a potential game in this year’s playoffs should be just as close. Chase Wolf leads the Clinton-Massie attack for an offense that has scored 70 points twice, and 60 points on another occasion. The defense has recorded an amazing six shutouts. Alter’s triple option attack has almost been as impressive. The Knights are also 10-0, including a 49-0 win over third seeded Cincinnati McNicholas in Week 9 when both teams were undefeated. The winner of the potential match-up between Massie and Alter should play for the state championship. The other region to watch is Region 11. It could be rematch of last year’s regional final between Benedictine and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. Benedictine’s three headed attack at running back in Jerome Baker, Montez Rash, and DeCavilon Reese spearhead the running game, and Division I recruit Justin Layne provides big play potential in the passing game. Baker leads a defense that has come on in recent weeks. Mooney is a perennial playoff team, and the “Youngstown Way” has made them one of the best programs in the state.
Examiner pick: Kettering Alter
Division III…. Another very difficult state champion to predict. Akron St.Vincent-St.Mary is the defending state champion, and the Irish look in playoff form heading into this year’s tournament. They will be challenged in their own region by the state’s top ranked team in Hubbard. Larry Scott Jr. is heading to Michigan State next season, and for Hubbard’s opponents, it won’t be soon enough. He has gained over 2000 yards on the ground behind a massive offensive line. Ohio State recruit George Hill gives the Eagles a nice one-two punch in the backfield. A team quietly flying under the radar is last year’s runner-up Trotwood-Madison. Michigan recruit Messiah DeWeaver sits behind center and directs a potent offense for the Rams. Trotwood’s only loss on the year came by just a touchdown to the number one seed in Division I Region 2 in Centerville. Toledo Central Catholic may have the best resume of any Division III team. The Irish’s two losses on the year came to Michigan power De LaSalle, and to Division II state qualifier Perrysburg by just a touchdown. They own wins over Division I qualifiers Toledo Whitmer and Fremont Ross, and in the game against Ross, they scored 83 points. Ohio State recruit Joe Burrows leads the explosive offense of The Plains Athens. Burrows has thrown 42 touchdowns on the year, and only one interception. The Bulldogs of Athens have scored 50 points twice, sixty points three times, seventy points once, and even hit eighty points once. They will be a headache for anyone they play.
Examiner pick: Toledo Central Catholic
Division II…. Defending state champion Loveland did not qualify for this year’s playoffs, and that means that Division II is wide open. The toughest region in the state regardless of division in Region 4, where all eight teams can have an argument as being the best team. Midview’s offense, Nordonia’s consistency, Perrysburg’s defense, Highland’s never say die attitude, Avon’s playoff experience, and Massillon’s tradition, make this THE region to watch in the state of Ohio. Whomever makes it out of this region will have earned it. The state semi-final game will be no picnic either as undefeated Bedford, one loss Mayfield, and the always dangerous Glenville could be their opponent. Lewis Center Olentangy is the favorite to make it out of Region 5, and their opponent in the other semi-final should be Cincinnati La Salle. The Lancers COULD make a claim to be the state’s best team regardless of division. The lone loss for La Salle was to Division I power St. Xavier by a field goal on the game’s final play.The Lancers caught everyone’s attention last week when they went to play Cincinnati Elder at “The Pit” in Cincinnati. It was the same Elder team that knocked off St. Edward during the regular season. La Salle put a 55-28 beating on Elder. La Salle is the favorite, behind the outstanding play of their skill position players in junior running back Jeremy Larkin, and sophomore running back Jarell White. A La Salle/Nordonia final would be something to see.
Examiner pick: Cincinnati La Salle
Division I…. The big boys. The glamour division. Cincinnati Moeller is trying to become a state champion for the third straight year, but it won’t be easy doing it from the number six seed. Centerville is the top seed, and will take its undefeated record, and consistency on both sides of the ball into the playoffs. Cincinnati St. Xavier may be the state’s hottest team. After an early season loss to Moeller, the Bombers defeated powers Elder, La Salle, and St. Ignatius. The state’s most underrated team, Dublin Coffman, may have the toughest road to get to final. The “Rocks” open up with rival Hilliard Davidson in the first round, but it doesn’t end there. They could potentially have to go through a Davidson, Huber Heights Wayne, Centerville, St. Xavier run just to make it to the title game. Up in Region 1, Hudson is the top seed, and the state’s top ranked team. Quarterback Mitch Guadagni and the Explorers have had a dream season, but to make it to the title game, Hudson has a potential St, Ignatius, Mentor, St.Edward run they may have to get through. Mentor is as scary a four seed as they come, and the same can be said for St. Ignatius as an eight seed. All kinds of potential great games litter second round match-ups. The story of the year in Cleveland may be the emergence of Berea-Midpark. The Titans make the playoffs as a five seed in just their second year since the merger of Berea and Midpark high schools. The Eagles of St. Edward have the most talent, and seem to be hitting their stride in the last two weeks with dominant wins over Moeller and St. Ignatius. Look for St. Edward to emerge and play the winner of St. Xavier and Dublin Coffman in the state championship.
Examiner pick: St. Edward