Last year was a dream season for the Genoa Comets football team.
It will go down historically as one of the best all-time in this Western Ottawa County town. However, the debate is already out there — are this year’s Comets going to be even better?
One year ago, the Comets completed a 13-1 season that led them to the Division IV state semi-final. The Comets won their second straight Suburban Lakes League championship along with district and regional trophies.
Genoa reached the final four against Kettering Bishop Alter, a D-IV parochial school which had played a heavy schedule against D-I and D-II parochial schools from central and southwest Ohio. On the field against these schools, Alter was undefeated and blowing out opponents, but it had to forfeit two games because of an ineligible player.
Still, Genoa gave Alter its closest game of the season, and the Comets scored far more than any other team had against the Catholic school in a 42-37 loss at Findlay’s Donnell Stadium.
WRSCRadio.com internet broadcaster and former Press sports editor Rick Waldron wrote in Soaring Comets: A Profile of the 2008 Genoa High Comets, a Press Newspapers magazine published last December, “It belied the defensive prowess more teams brought to the snow-showered gridiron in the Flag City. Alter showed up with four seniors headed to Division I college programs, including a 6-8, 230 pound behemoth, Max Plunkett, anchoring the Knights offensive line.
“That said, the always prepared and well-coached Comets won the battles of total offense and time of possession and had the ball in the waning moments. It was not to be,” Waldron continued.
In the state final, Alter handily defeated Steubenville 21-6, outrushing their pass-heavy opponent 303 to 88 yards, at Canton’s Fawcett Stadium.
Just like the consecutive seasons Eastwood lost Division III playoff contests to Columbus Bishop Watterson and Columbus St. Francis DeSales, one could argue it was a good case for separating public and parochial schools in tournament competition like many state associations do.
Now, with Genoa coach Mike Vicars still at the helm after resisting possible offers from schools like St. Mary’s Memorial, many Genoa fans remind us that many stars from last year’s team were underclassmen. This could spell trouble for any opponent this season.
Genoa has been picked by Suburban Lakes League coaches to win its third straight title, but don’t think for a minute Eastwood or the other SLL schools will sit still with that. Like always on Coach Jerry Rutherford’s roster, the Eagles’ roster looks like it has more depth in roster numbers than many D-I schools.
In addition, Eastwood’s seniors are hungry for that league championship that has eluded them. The showdown between the Eagles and Comets on October 2 will once again be monumental, and Rutherford and Vicars both know that.
“It’s one thing getting into that situation where you’re playing for a league championship, but you want to win a league title. If we are good enough to win a league championship, I think we’re in the playoffs,” Rutherford told Press contributing writer Mark Griffin.
Three other schools, Woodmore, Lake, and Gibsonburg, begin their next to last season in the SLL. The Wildcats will be entering their 12th season under Coach Lou Bosh, the Golden Bears begin a fourth season with Matt Harp at the helm, and the Flyers begin their third season with Lake alumnus Bob Abbey making the calls.
Of course, we can’t forget Northwood — a perennial Toledo Area Athletic Conference champion who many argue without open enrollment, the football team would have been in the playoffs last season. Northwood, by one boy, was D-V instead of VI, and a 9-1 season with perhaps one of the best teams in school history ended before the playoffs began.
Northwood is the coaches’ pick to again win the TAAC, with Hilltop and Toledo Christian as the top contenders.
“First and foremost, we’re going to have to have good chemistry,” Coach Ken James told Griffin. “We’ve had a good work ethic in the offseason. That was left over from our seniors last year. We had an exceptional senior class in that regard. We have a smaller senior class this year and really good guys who have had success in their careers. We’re a little more junior-oriented, so we have to get that leadership.
“We have to stay healthy and have good chemistry and play well under pressure, which we were able to do last year. This is a different year, so we don’t know how they’re going to respond when the lights get turned on Friday night.”
Two schools — Cardinal Stritch and Waite — have new coaches making the decisions this season. Both teams had only one win in league play last year, and Joe Gutilla brings his experience to Stritch from out of state, and former Bowling Green State University football player Gardner Howard gets a shot at Waite.
For those who live along the shores of Lake Erie, Clay begins its third season under Mike Donnelly, a Clay alumnus who led the Eagles to a 7-3 overall and 5-2 record in the City League.
In this week’s Metro and Suburban editions of The Press are previews of 10 local prep football teams written by Mark Griffin, Scott Calhoun, and J. Patrick Eaken, complete with rosters, team photos, and schedules.