The South Range Raiders have become a fixture in the postseason. Last year, despite having lost the bulk of their state semifinalist squad from the year before, the Raiders posted an unbeaten regular season and advanced all the way to the regional finals. The expectations will remain the same for this season.
HB Steve Bensinger (6-0, 185, Sr.), QB Jack Dawson (6-2, 185, Jr.), C/DL Dan Pierce (5-10, 215, Sr.), GDL Mike Hudak (5-10, 210, Sr.), OLB/WB Charlie Lengyel (6-1, 218, Sr.), OT Levi Kenney (6-4, 255, Sr.), KP JC Willison (6-1, 195, Sr.)
2006 Record: 12-1
South Range has been knocking on the door loudly every year, coming tantalizingly close to their dream of playing for a state title. After advancing to the state semifinals in 2005, the Raiders came back with a new group of players and came within seven points of doing it again.
“We were very, very pleased with the final result, going 12-1 and losing in the regional finals to a real good JFK football team,” head coach Dan Yeagley said. “We were really pleased because the year before, we made it to the state semifinals and graduated everybody and only had a couple people coming back offensively and defensively. But these kids pulled together as a team and played together as a team. They understood that they had to play 48 minutes of hard-nosed football, and they did. It was really fun. It was a great year.”
This year’s team returns five starters on each side of the ball from the 2006 squad. Yeagley feels that the group learned many things that will be carried over to this year.
“I think one of the main things is they started believing each other,” Yeagley said. “We have a good core group back this year that understood that and saw that. They understood that they had to fight for each other and as a team, they could accomplish anything. We had our backs up against the wall a couple times; we were losing three games with about three minutes left to go and we came back and won all three of them. They learned how to fight and how to not quit and not give up. I really think this is going to carry over to this year because we’ve got a good core group back. We’ve got 20 seniors, and they’re going to learn from what they learned last year. They’re going to learn from that, and they’re going to come back strong this year.”
What will this year’s team have to do to keep South Range’s string of success going?
“Just like last year’s team, they’re going to have to rely on each other,” Yeagley said. “They’re going to have to pull together as a team to be successful. Last year we started a sophomore at quarterback and he came through with flying colors. Now he’s a junior and has a year under his belt. That was a little scary going into last year, with a young quarterback leading the team. But like I said he pulled through, and this year he’s experienced, and the kids trust him and rely on him. We have three offensive linemen coming back, which is a good nucleus up front. Like I said, they just have to pull together as a team and learn to trust in each other and trust in us coaches, then we’ll have to see what happens.”
With South Range, the hope remains the same, and that is to take the next step and finally play for the state championship. Can this team make the jump?
“We hope,” Yeagley said. “That’s our dream. Our first goal is, we break our schedule down into parts – we have three really hard non-league games, and our goal is to get through them and hopefully go undefeated through the non-leagues. Our league, since we combined with the ITCL last year, is a real strong league and real tough. Our goal is to try to go through that league and win the ITCL, and then make the playoffs. We really feel our schedule prepares us for the playoffs. Our region is loaded this year, so you never know what’s going to happen, but our goal is to go one step further.
“Sometime, someday, our goal is to get into the state championship game. That’s always a goal of ours, something that we always shoot for, but we have to play one game at a time, and that starts with our non-league and then our league.”
Indeed, South Range cannot afford to do anything other than take one game at a time in order to get a playoff spot in the loaded Region 17. The schedule is challenging and features several yearly playoff teams.
“Our schedule, with this new league, it’s unbelievable,” Yeagley said. “We start off week one with Mogadore, who was a state semifinalist last year. We got them at home last year in the first game, and now we travel to their place, and it’s always hard to play at Mogadore. They’re going to be ready to play and they have some nice players coming back. Then we have Independence and Newton Falls – two good teams there. Independence is now in our region, so if they have a great year we could meet them again in the playoffs.
“The top teams in our league that really stick out is obviously Columbiana, who made it to the playoffs last year and made it to the regional finals and wound up losing to Mogadore; Crestview, who we ended up beating early in the season and had to beat again in the second round in the playoffs. Probably the scariest team on our schedule is Mineral Ridge. They return a lot of starters from last year’s team and they’re very well-coached. They’re big and they have some good running backs.
“Then when you make the playoffs with the realignments, you have Youngstown Ursuline sitting in our region and Bedford Chanel, Gates Mills Hawken, Gates Mills Gilmour Academy, Trinity – the region’s loaded. That’s why I tell the kids, ‘You’re always looking ahead but you have to worry about that week one game first,’ and that’s Mogadore. Then we have Independence, then we have Newton Falls, and then the league, and then whatever happens happens, but we have to take one game at a time.”
North Lima South Range
|9/14/2007||Lisbon David Anderson||5|
|9/28/2007||@ East Palestine||5|
|10/19/2007||@ Mineral Ridge||5|
|10/26/2007||New Middletown Springfield||6|