But the Cardinals face quite a different challenge than in recent years.
Region 13 could arguably be the toughest region in the state pound-for-pound with Mooney, back-to-back Division III state champion Steubenville joining the ranks this season and traditional powers Akron Manchester, Canton Central Catholic and Orrville all in contention.
Region 14 welcomes Marion Pleasant from Division V and Oak Harbor looks to be in good position to defend it regional title.
Amanda-Clearcreek makes the leap from Division V as well into Region 15, while Bellaire aims for its fourth regional title in five years under a new head coach.
Region 16 features two state runners-up from last year with Plain City Jonathan Alder looking to be in the mix again and Kettering Alter (D-III runner-up) joining D-IV. Coldwater, the 2005 D-IV state champ, has a lot of coaches in the Division concerned again this year.
|Akron Manchester (7-3)|
Prior to last season, Akron Manchester had not missed the playoffs since 1990 and has claimed 16 of the last 17 Principal’s Athletic Conference titles. The Panthers will only have eight seniors on the roster this season, but head coach Jim France is optimistic in the amount of players he will have out. Zac Kreakbaum will lead Manchester’s offense after rushing for 1,600 yards and 26 TDs last year. Though young, sophomore QB Steve King already has a year’s worth of varsity experience under center. With a huge hit to the offensive and defensive lines, Manchester will have to fill some holes in those areas.
After 17 seasons on the sidelines at Copley, Dan Boarman returned to his alma mater in January to take over the St. Vincent-St. Mary football program. For Boarman, it is his second stint with the Irish. He was also at SVSM from 1975-1988. The Irish have finished 4-6 three of the last four seasons and Boarman hopes to get the Irish back to a winning tradition.
After finishing as a state semifinalist last year in Division V, Amanda-Clearcreek makes the move up to Division IV. Dalton Smith, a 1,000-yard passer and rusher, returns under center for the Aces and Judd Ellinger (18 catches, two TDs), Taylor Griebel (18 catches, 108 yards, two TDs) and Josh Mathes (42 catches, 231 yards, four TDs) will all lead the A-C offense.
Bellaire has made the playoffs each of the last four seasons and reached the state semifinals game three of those four years. But the Bellaire football program will have a significantly different look for the 2007 season after John Magistro stepped down as head coach to make way for long-time offensive coordinator Greg Bonar. Bellaire also loses a lot of talent from last year’s team that will need to be replaced. “This is one of the heaviest losses we have had in a while but I think one of the reasons we do well every year is we expect to win,” Bonar said.
CCC snuck into the playoffs last season for the third straight year with a .500 record thanks to a tough regular season schedule. Behind 13 returning starters, CCC is looking to improve upon its regular season record and advance further in the postseason this year. QB Joey Rhoads will be a vital part of the CCC offense this season after completing 79-of-150 pass attempts for 1,036 yards, five TDs and four INTs while rushing for 528 yards on 132 carries and nine TDs. RB/LB Marcello Natale tallied 598 yards on 112 carries in five games and the three-year starter will be the leader of the Crusader defense.
Alter reached the Division III state title game last year before narrowly falling to Steubenville 34-33 to finish state runner-up. Evan Johnson and Bobby Joseph will anchor the offensive line in the wishbone offense. Corey Roark, who rushed for just under 500 yards and had five TDs in the regular season, will be the go-to player on the ground attack with the transfer of Michael Shaw to Trotwood-Madison. Austin Boucher is stepping in at QB for graduate Steve O’Donnell. Alter’s defense, which had seven shutouts last season including three in playoffs, should be stout again with several returning players.
Marion Pleasant is a mainstay in the football postseason qualifying each of the last eight years. The outlook is favorable once again for the Spartans as they move up from to Division IV. But head coach Chris Kubbs is more concerned about taking care of business on the field rather than which division Pleasant is in. “We really don’t concern ourselves much with that,” he said. “We start with the regular season and go from there. If you’re good enough to get into the playoffs, all teams are talented at that point,” he said.
New Lexington will be looking to qualify for the postseason for the fifth time since 2000 when the Panthers take the field in 2007. But New Lexington will be without star RB Travis Cook, a first-team team All-Ohio selection. Will Hicks is next line to take over the RB duties. OL/LB Josh Conrad stars on both sides of the ball for New Lexington. Also blocking for Hicks in the Panthers option attack will be R.J. Starkey, who had 700 yards and six TDs last year. OL/DT Chris Spencer has showed well in the off season clocking a 4.6-second 40-yard time at the Southeastern Ohio Premier Combine.
Oak Harbor flew under the radar last season until putting together an impressive playoff run to the state tournament that included a regional semifinal win over then-defending state champion Coldwater. The Rockets graduated 20 players from last year’s squad but head coach Gary Quisno is excited about what he has coming back in 2007. Oak Harbor will be strong up front this year. OL Wade Ishmael was an All-Ohio first-team selection last year and will anchor the defensive line. TE Spencer Skinner was an All-Sandusky Bay Conference selection and All-Northwest District. OL/DL Jeff Chambers is a two-way starter on the line and OL/DL Bobby Brown rounds out the roster in the trenches.
The most noticeable difference between last year’s Orville squad and this year’s will be under center. Gone is first-team All-Ohio QB Kyle Simmons, who passed for over 3,200 yards and rushed for over 1,000 last year. Also gone is leading receiver and first-team All-Ohio selection Brad Thomas. Mike McMorrow started in the backfield last year and is slated to tote the ball again for the Red Riders. Cortes McCrary, primarily a defender, will see some time in the Orrville backfield as well.
Alder enjoyed its most successful season in program history last year finishing state runners-up in its first trip to the state tournament. After allowing just over nine points per game and boasting five shutouts last season, Alder will have to address the defensive side of the ball in 2007. Offensively, Austin Schlosser is back under center for his third season and four of five starting offensive linemen are back with two-year starters C.J. Williams and Larry Zornes blocking upfront as well as Joe Collins and Kyle Hostetler. Bates, who had 73 yards rushing and two TDs in the 26-12 state championship game loss to Cardinal Mooney, is back to lead the ground game.
The Big Red are 30-0 in the last two seasons and will be attempting to become only the sixth school since 1972 to win three straight state titles. However, Steubenville drops to Division IV and is in arguably to toughest region in the state regardless of Division. The QB position needs to be filled with two-year starter Zach Collaros graduated. WR/DB Steve Davis, OL/DL Andrew Radakovich and FB/LB Bronko Busic will lead the Big Red this season.
|West Milton Milton-Union (11-2)|
Milton-Union claimed a share of the Southwestern Buckeye League title for the first time in over 20 years last season and reached the regional finals. The Bulldogs lose 12 seniors from last year’s squad, including two-time first-team All-Ohio QB Mitchell Evans. Defense will be Milton-Union’s strength led by LB Tyler Wilson, who has tallied 125 tackles each of the last two years and is 80 shy from the school record. Junior John Mason will step in for Evans and M-U also returns an experienced backfield with three backs that have seen time on the field already.
Last season, Mooney was a perfect against one of the toughest schedules in the state and earned its second title in three years and sixth state championship in school history. Despite taking a major hit from graduation, Mooney has many of the key players returning from last season’s championship run. LB/RB Brandon Beachum, LB/DE Taylor Hill, junior DL Johnny Simon and OL Jarod Emerson all have scholarship offers to major college programs and Mike Zordich verbaled to Penn State in early June while QB Danny McCarthy committed to Notre Dame mid-July.
* Each of these teams will be featured in-depth with detailed information about returning players, the coach's thoughts on the season and schedule information.
The Wildcats reached the regional finals last season but lose all-staters Austin Rankin and Matt Earley but return all-staters Justin Creager.
|Cincinnati Wyoming (7-4)|
The Cowboys have made the playoffs 11 of the last 13 years. Wyoming lost the Clinton-Massie in in the first round of the playoffs last year.
|Clarksville Clinton-Massie (10-2)|
Clinton-Massie has been a mainstay in the postseason the last several years. The Falcons will need to replace ATH Drew Frey (Cincinnati) and QB Tyler Sergeant.
Perennial Midwest Athletic Conference power and 2005 D-IV state champion Coldwater moves from Region 14 to Region 16 and is expected to be a postseason contender again in 2007.
|Dayton Oakwood (6-5)|
Victories over Valley View and Bellbrook led the Lumberjacks to fourth playoff trip in six years. Standout senior running back Chris Hardy returns.
|Elyria Catholic (7-3)|
Ben Malbasa takes over the Panthers, which are 15-6 over the last two seasons.
The Tigers have made the playoffs four of the last five years and are 47-11 in that span.
Longtime head coach Bob Lutz (292 career wins at Ironton) takes over the Fighting Tigers once again after taking a season off from coaching.
|Martins Ferry (10-2)|
The Purple Riders have made the playoffs four of the last five years and will be in the mix again this year in Region 15 behind all-state RB Jeremy Murray (5-10, 175, Jr.).
|Massillon Tuslaw (9-2)|
The Mustangs had one of their most successful seasons last year, which included a PAC-7 championship, and return nearly 20 starters.
Former West Geauga head coach Matt Rosati takes over for Chagrin Valley Conference rival Perry following Mike Elder’s move to Avon.
|Sparta Highland (9-3)|
The Fighting Scots made the postseason last year for the first time since 1999 and are 29-13 in the last four seasons.
|St. Clairsville (7-4)|
The Red Devils are 28-23 in five seasons under Brett McLean.
|Tontogany Otsego (7-4)|
The Knights have reached the postseason each of the last three seasons and are 26-8 in that span.
The Tigers claimed the Southern Ohio Conference title last year and return 20 seniors, including QB Trevor Walls (6-6, 215, Sr.) – a top college prospect in the class of 2008.
|Williamsport Westfall (11-1)|
Scott Keller takes over the Mustangs program, which went 42-8 in the regular season and won two Scioto Valley Conference titles from 2002-06.
|Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley (7-5)|
Tusky Valley has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
* Several of these teams will be featured in-depth, detailed information about returning players, the coach's thoughts on the season and schedule information.
|Brandon Beachum||RB/LB||Cardinal Mooney|
|Taylor Hill||FB/LB||Cardinal Mooney|
|Wade Ishmael||OL/DL||Oak Harbor|
|Hank Keighly||DE||Kettering Alter|
|Zac Kreakbaum||RB||Akron Manchester|
|Danny McCarthy||QB/DB||Cardinal Mooney|
|Marcello Natale||LB||Canton Central Catholic|
|Austin Schlosser||QB||Plain City Jonathan Alder|
|Johnny Simon||OL||Cardinal Mooney|
|Tyler Wilson||LB/RB||West Milton Milton-Union|
|Michael Zordich||FB/LB||Cardinal Mooney|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Mentor|
|Steubenville vs. Wintersville Indian Creek|
|Akron SVSM vs. Cleveland VASJ|
|Akron Manchester vs. Smithville|
|Canton Central Catholic vs. New Philadelphia|
|Orrville vs. Canal Fulton Northwest|
|Marion Pleasant @ St. Henry|
|Bellaire vs. Wheeling Pak (W.Va.)|
|Amanda-Clearcreek vs. Newark Catholic|
|Ironton vs. Wheelersburg|
|Kettering Alter @ Kettering Fairmont|
|Clarksville Clinton-Massie vs. Blanchester|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder vs. Monroe Lemon-Monroe|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Gateway (Pa.)|
|Steubenville vs. Akron Buchtel|
|Orrville @ Wooster Triway|
|Amanda-Clearcreek @ Chillicothe Zane Trace|
|Kettering Alter @ Bellbrook|
|Coldwater vs. Maria Stein Marion Local|
|Waverly @ Jackson|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Akron Hoban|
|Canton Central Catholic vs. Dover|
|Orrville vs. Copley|
|Waverly @ South Point|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Warren G. Harding|
|Steubenville vs. Buffalo St. Joseph (N.Y.)|
|Akron SVSM @ Akron Hoban|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Parma Heights Holy Name|
|Bellaire vs. St. Clairsville|
|West Milton Milton-Union vs. Franklin|
|Ironton @ Jackson|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Washington Court House Miami Trace|
|Coldwater @ Anna|
|Kettering Alter @ Roger Bacon|
|Oak Harbor @ Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Mentor Lake Catholic|
|Canton Central Catholic vs. Bedford St. Peter Chanel|
|Massillon Tuslaw @ Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley|
|Bellaire @ Steubenville Central Catholic|
|Kettering Alter vs. Dayton Carroll|
|Coldwater vs. St. Henry|
|Clarksville Clinton-Massie vs. Washington Court House Miami Trace|
|West Milton Milton-Union vs. Germantown Valley View|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Athol Springs St. Francis (N.Y.)|
|Steubenville vs. Columbus Bishop Watterson|
|Akron SVSM vs. Youngstown Chaney|
|Massillon Tuslaw @ Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy|
|West Milton Milton-Union @ Eaton|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Columbus Bishop Ready|
|Amanda-Clearcreek @ Circleville|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Cleveland Benedictine|
|Akron SVSM @ Walsh Jesuit|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Wooster Triway|
|Coldwater vs. Minster|
|New Lexington vs. Columbus Bishop Hartley|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder vs. Dayton Colonel White|
|Ironton vs. Portsmouth|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Akron SVSM|
|Akron Manchester @ Massillon Tuslaw|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Youngstown East|
|New Lexington @ New Concord John Glenn|
|Martins Ferry @ St. Clairsville|
|West Milton Milton-Union vs. Oakwood|
|Coldwater @ Versailles|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder vs. Columbus St. Charles|
|Cardinal Mooney vs. Youngstown Ursuline|
|Steubenville vs. Canton Central Catholic|
|Akron SVSM @ Hunting Valley University School|
|Orrville @ Mansfield Madison|
|Marion Pleasant @ Cardington Lincoln|
|Bellaire @ Winterville Indian creek|
|Waverly @ Wheelersburg|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Greenfield McClain|
|Oak Harbor @ Huron|
|Cardinal Mooney @ Columbus Bishop Watterson|
|Steubenville vs. Cardinal O'Hara (Pa.)|
|Akron SVSM vs. Youngstown Ursuline|
|Canton Central Catholic @ Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas|
|Oak Harbor vs. Clyde|
|Bellaire vs. Martins Ferry|
|Plain City Jonathan Alder @ Clarksville Clinton-Massie|
|Kettering Alter @ Dayton Chaminade-Julienne|
|Coldwater @ Delphos St. John's|
|West Milton Milton-Union @ Bellbrook|
OHIO HIGH PREDICTION
* Final Four: Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, Marion Pleasant, Amanda-Clearcreek, Kettering Alter
* Championship Game: Youngstown Cardinal Mooney over Kettering Alter