After Northwood’s 2020 showing, who has an encore?

J. Patrick Eaken

After shocking Northwest Ohio by nearly defeating Fairview in a Division VI regional quarterfinal last year, Northwood coach Ken James admits that the Rangers will be challenged to upset Edon for a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship this year.

“My guess would be that Edon would be the top pick. They were second last year and they’ve got virtually everybody back. They graduated something like four seniors — that is all,” James said. 

“Stritch is loaded and number-wise is better. I know (Stritch coach) Gene’s (Rucker’s) team is pretty impressive. We are not going to let that scare us getting off the bus,” James said. “He has some big linemen back and has some good skilled guys back, so they should be good this year.”

Rucker, in his second season, says this may be the year when the apple cart is upset in the TAAC. Northwood has dominated, but coaches say Edon returns all their top athletes.

“I think this is the most parity that I’ve seen in this league in a long time. Credit goes to Northwood for being tough. I know that they lost two studs and a group of kids, as a matter of fact, but it’s going to be tough,” Rucker said. “We have a quarterback (senior fourth-year starter Thomas Foust) who is going to be a stud and linemen as well. Ottawa Hills is always tough. Northwood is still going to be tough. He’ll get them ready to go and we’ll go from there. You always respect Hilltop and Montpelier — those kids play hard.”

Clay has a different kind of issue—playing in a league that stands among the best in Ohio. Last year Clay got its first playoff win after going winless in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. That tells you how good the league is.

“Our league is one of the best in the state with perennial powers like Central Catholic, Whitmer, Findlay, St. John’s and St. Francis,” Clay coach John Galyas said. “This year Fremont Ross has a lot of talent returning and Lima Senior always has talent. You have to bring your best every Friday night.  

“With the expanded playoffs this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if almost our whole league made the playoffs. Our league is what it is. It is tough. And Lima is not in our region — they are in the Southwest region (Division I), so they could certainly get in down there.

“We will be picked to finish seventh or eighth in our conference. We have been picked low before and we have been able to surprise people. We really like our senior class, it will be the largest senior class that we have had since we have taken over. If we can stay healthy we have a chance to surprise people.

“Our strengths are our senior class and our returning experience, especially on defense. The biggest weakness we have is our lack of depth. Our numbers are a little down this year, which is a little concerning, and it is critical that we stay healthy,” Galyas continued. “Our kids’ effort has been great, and the kids that have been there have been awesome.”

Waite also impressed last year, finishing 4-2 in the global-pandemic shortened season. The Indians open this Friday at St. John’s, and it does not get an easier from there.

“We don’t have any cake-walk in the first five but we’re confident,” second-year coach Aaron Peacock said. “We’ve been gelling well, the kids have been together. Week one is St. John’s, and it is going to be a tough game, but we are going to be prepared to give our all.”

The last five weeks the Indians will head into the Toledo City League, where they have full expectations of competing for a championship.

“We talk about it. Honestly, it’s hard not to sit up there and not say Start isn’t going to be up there at the top again,” Peacock said. “They always have numbers. Rogers was looking good last year and I think they are going to be one of the teams that is one of the quality teams to compete, and I mean Scott has a new head coach, so you cannot sleep on them.”

Too many talented athletes 

Then you drift over to the Northern Buckeye Conference, where it seems Eastwood, Lake, Rossford, Otsego, and yes, Elmwood, all return quality skilled athletes. 

Genoa has a new coach and top returnees, Fostoria had talented freshmen last year who are now a year older, and Woodmore has to pick up where it left, winning three games at the season’s end but having to replace a lot of seniors.

Since 2011, the first year of NBC football, Eastwood has won five championships — more than any other school. Genoa has three and Lake has one, and Otsego got their first NBC title last year. 

Last year, Otsego (10-1) went a perfect 6-0 and reached the Division V state semifinals, while Eastwood (7-2) finished as league runner-up at 5-1, losing to Otsego in the regional finals and both Eastwood losses came to the Knights.

Rossford feels confident because the Bulldogs return players at nearly every position. Elmwood looks good because the Royals have proven skilled backs returning and Lake has assorted talent from across the board returning but there are a few holes to fill in the Flyers’ interior line and offensive backfield.

Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford knows that his Eagles will have their work cut out if they want that sixth title.

“It seems like a lot of the schools in the league return really big playmakers. All of us have to make sure we find a way to get guys up front who can get the job done on the offensive line. But there are some fun playmakers coming back,” Rutherford said.

“And, we say, ‘This is why we signed up to play high school football. We want to play in big games, and we are fortunate to play in a league that gives us that opportunity.’ So, our guys are looking forward to being able to go out and compete.”

Making a dent in the NBC is also the next step for Lake, and last year’s team (5-5 overall, 4-3 NBC) gave the contenders a run for their money.

“I think the competition in the league from top to bottom will be competitive.  You will have to come to play every Friday night. Eastwood is just a traditional program there — they just do things the right way,” coach Josh Andrews said. 

“And it is really the same thing with Otsego, and they have some kids who fit in and some kids who are coming back. They do things the right way over there,” Andrews continued. 

“Rossford is going to be tough, and Elmwood is going to have a nice run game. I really think the league is going to be good this year and there probably will be, just like last year, some surprises, and it is going to be a real tight race. You will have to come and bring your A-game every week. I think they are the ones up there, but I think we will compete.” 









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