If you’re a casual fan without a rooting interest, Week 1 of the football playoffs will offer a little of everything. The thing is…what intrigues you the most, and what offers the best chance of something you might never see again?
We’re not in the business of handicapping football games, but for the sake of pure interest…Week 1 of the playoffs is always the most anticipated of all.
Really, you ask? Aren’t you the same guy who laments first-round blowouts between mismatched teams?
Aren’t you the one who advocates a shorter football tournament because five additional weeks is too long a process for adolescent athletes?
And aren’t you the one who believes that there should more of a down period between seasons, football and basketball, for the sake of kids who play both?
Yes, yes, and yes. But there are also games in Week 1, because of the seeding process, that you also don’t see during the regular season – matchups that simply can’t happen for one reason or another.
An example: Bethel playing Coldwater, at Coldwater, this Friday is a game that would be nigh to impossible to do in regular season. Distance is a factor, and Coldwater has those long-standing non-conference relationships with schools like Kenton and Bishop Hartley because they portend more computer consideration come playoff time. But the difference in style of play between Bethel (option) and Coldwater (spread) can create a very interesting outcome…because neither team knows that much about the other. It’s a bit like walking around in a strange house at night without the lights on, our late colleague, Roger Burcham, used to say.
But of the area games to see this week that we believe hold the most interest, here’s some we pick, along with reasons why you might just get more than your money’s worth.
Belmont @ Sidney…First, Sidney hasn’t been in this position in so long that the whole town’s up in arms about their Yellow Jackets, and for good reason. Their 9-1 record is the best in over a quarter century. Their offense is the most dynamic since the days of “30-0” under then coach, Dave Haines. And, for the person who goes to these games to get a glimpse of the future, they have a pair of true Division I collegiate prospects in quarterback Andre’ Gordon and running back Isaiah Bowser, a commit to play at Northwestern next year.
No one really knows that much about Belmont, a Dayton City League team whose pedigree amounts to a pile of lopsided scores against suspect competition – Meadowdale (63-0), Hughes (62-6), and Shroder (63-0).
And when you think about the matching of these two offenses, and the obvious athletes on both rosters, this portends to be an interesting shootout.
They’re planning a big community pep rally in downtown Sidney this week, the atmosphere should be electric, and you just hope that the hype for the game doesn’t get in the way of actually playing the game. This is a ‘Jackets team that could hang around to eventually play the likes of #1-seed, and defending state champ, LaSalle. If you like points on the board, this is one you’d want to see.
Fort Recovery @ Marion Local…Yes, because there’s always intrigue to see a defending state champ, especially one whose defended five of the last six years. That’s right, Marion’s remarkable string of success includes having won four straight prior to losing to Kirtland in 2015, and they came back to win their ninth overall in 2016, with a decision over an impressive Cuyahoga Heights team from Cleveland.
But Recovery (6-4) has what must be considered the irresistible force, featuring running back Will Homan. Homan, a diminutive senior, is built low to the ground, has great quickness and power, and put up 420 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 28-16 win over St. Henry that put the Indians in this week’s round, and took the Redskins out.
“There’s really no one like him right now,” says PPM analyst Tim Boeckman, the former head coach at St. Henry, and Boeckman has seen all of the great MAC backs in his experience. “He gets so much yardage after first contact.”
And Recovery does such a great job of getting him the ball – Homan will be the object of Marion’s attention on defense, first and foremost.
And this is not the typical Marion team, but a different-look team that pieces together its offensive attributes to match the needs of a given night, while relying on a rapidly-improving defense – and in this case, the immovable object to that irresistible force. The Flyers again are strong up front, have great pursuit from the linebacking positions, and everyone swarms to the football.
They played three weeks ago and Marion won that game, 21-10, and Will Homan DID NOT get 420 yards that night; but these are the playoffs, emotions will be amped up, and anything, as we’ve seen in the past, is possible.
You just question if it’s possible against Marion Local!
Fort Loramie @ Minster…Finally, if you pick a game based on pure rivalry instincts, here’s your entree’ for this week. They’re five miles apart. The respective rosters are probably sprinkled with first and second cousins, and they know each other so well it’s impossible to surprise, given their respective styles of play. This is smash-mouth football.
Loramie has the better record (8-2) but plays a lighter schedule as a member of the Cross County Conference.
Minster is 6-4, a rather pedestrian mark, but those four losses came in consecutive fashion against MAC foes, the likes of Marion Local, Fort Recovery, St. Henry, and Coldwater. No other area team can boast such an ‘impressive’ losing streak. And yet, they came back when their season was on the line to win three straight against Bremen, Versailles, and Anna.
When they played on opening night this year Minster won 20-0. But both teams have matured, and seasoned, since then, and this is not the same Loramie team that felt its way through that 20-0 shutout. The Redskins will run the ball, take time off the clock, and try to eliminate the impact of Minster quarterback, Jared Huelsman, one of the MAC’s best athletes, period.
Opening round games are often played before a lot of empty seats, but not this one. Expect this atmosphere to be the best of all the Round 1 games in the area, and don’t assume the outcome, either. Officially, it’s seeded as #4 Minster playing #5 Loramie. Don’t buy that for a minute. Everything about Fort Loramie and Minster is much closer than that!
Our suggestions for your football Friday night. Pick one, and enjoy!