Last season, the Anderson Redskins were the new kids on the block and won the Division II state championship. This year, Sylvania Southview is the new face in the mix and the Cougars are on the prowl to dethrone defending champ Anderson Friday in the championship game.
Last season, they were the new kids on the block.
This season, Cincinnati Anderson has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in Division II and the Redskins are on the warpath for a second straight state championship.
But this season’s new face, Sylvania Southview, is on the prowl for its first state title in only its second championship game appearance.
The two teams will battle Fri., Nov. 28 at Massillon’s Paul Brown Stadium in the 37th Annual OHSAA State Football Finals.
New Season, New Challenges
After a surprising run at the state title last season, Anderson (12-2) faced this season as defending state champions – a new challenge for the program.
“I think any time you defend a title you have additional pressure,” second-year head coach Jeff Giesting said. “I don’t know that all of it is put on by us. I think the fans and the community put some of that on you and the opponents are obviously shooting for you. You have a big target on your back.
“I think our kids have handled it well and we’ve told them from day one that was the way it was going to be – that people were going to give them their best shot every week.”
As for the difference between reaching the state championship the first time as opposed to returning to the state title game, Giesting said, “It has been difficult both years. It is difficult to get there any time and we just feel very blessed and fortunate that we have been able to do it two years in a row.”
Anderson is the only defending state champion with the opportunity to repeat this year.
Early Season Woes
Anderson’s season looked bleak early after suffering key injuries and losing to Columbus DeSales and Fort Ancient Valley Conference foe Cincinnati Winton Woods by Week 6.
“We lost five players the second week of the season against Mason,” Giesting explained. “We really got snake bitten that second game with injuries and we were scrambling a little bit for a few weeks to get our continuity back. The kids really hung in there and fought back.”
Fight back they did, winning the last four regular season games by an average of nearly three touchdowns to finish as the No. 3 seed in the Region 8.
Braves On The Warpath
Anderson extacted revenge in the postseason avenging its only two losses of the regular season edging Winton Woods 24-21 in the regional finals and running past DeSales 24-10 last week in the state semifinals.
“We had some tough times early in the year and were able to survive those and we’ve been able to play pretty well lately,” Giesting said.
When Anderson Has The Ball
Behind an offensive line that averages over 240 pounds, junior running back Kyle Slater has rushed for 2,063 yards on 268 carries and 28 touchdowns earning first team All-Ohio recognition.
He also has 13 catches out of the backfield for 152 yards and a touchdown.
“I think Kyle is finally very comfortable in our offense now. It took him about half the season to get comfortable with what we were asking him to do,” Giesting said. “But I really think the key is our offensive line. They’ve got good size, they work well together, are very coachable and they take a lot of pride in getting Kyle a lot of yards.”
Junior tackle Andrew Norwell (6-7, 275) is one of the top players in the state earning first team All-Ohio honors and already has scholarship offers to Ohio State, Cincinnati, Duke and Indiana.
While Anderson is a run-first team, the Redskins will throw the ball around with two-year starting quarterback Daniel Rod taking the snaps. Rod is 80-of-138 passing this season for 1,213 yards, 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
“We have the ability to throw the ball and we game plan for that from week to week depending on what we want to do,” Gietsting said.
“Daniel is very confident. We just enjoy having him around because he is such a competitor. He puts a lot on himself and he does a great job being a leader for our team. He’s what you want in a quarterback. He believes in himself and believes he can make plays and has made a lot of great plays for us, especially at the end of games when we had to have it.”
Cat Scratch Fever
Southview (14-0) has scored at least 28 points in every game this season and is beating opponents by an average of 30.4 points per game, including a convincing 31-0 win over Akron Hoban in the state semifinals.
The Cougars are making their second state title game appearance after finishing runners-up in 1999.
“It’s been a great ride to win 14 games in a year. To win 10 games is an awesome deal but to win 14 – I don’t know if my words can describe how the kids feel about that,” Southview head coach Jim Mayzes said, who was named D-II coach of the year by the Associated Press.
“It has been a goal all year and one we are pleased to achieve. It was a goal to get to (Week 15) and it is a goal to win in (Week 15) and it has been a goal since last season when we lost in (Week 13).
“I know the community is excited and it really makes it fun.”
When Southview Has The Ball
Look no further than senior quarterback Alex Pidcock.
The second team All-Ohio selection is 121-of-161 passing this season for 2,460 yards, 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He went 12 games before he threw his first pick and already had 20 touchdowns at the time.
Pidcock also added 1,278 yards rushing on 191 carries and 20 touchdowns.
“He is a big, strong, physical kid and we’re pleased with him this year,” Mayzes said. “He is making good choices not forcing the ball with his arm and forcing it with his legs. We were very pleased with his decision making running the ball.”
Senior receiver Shaun Joplin has been Pidcock’s favorite target connecting with him 54 times for 1,149 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is a second team All-Ohio selection.
“He has good speed, great hands and has been scoring touchdowns since he was a sophomore,” said Mayzes.
Junior wideout Jimmy Hall reeled in 42 catches for 915 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“He runs great routes, has good hands and has the ability to go up and get the ball to make the play.
“They just do a great job for us,” Mayzes said of his pass-catchers.
Not To Be Overlooked
Senior running back Ryan Josza has had a nice season rushing for 733 yards on 119 attempts and seven touchdowns.
With seemingly different yet successful styles of offense taking the field Friday night, both Anderson and Southview will be challenged on defense.
The Southview defense, led by linebackers Greg Isley (191 tackles) and Dylan Coleman (75 tackles, 9½ for loss) and defensive back Hall (71 tackles, four interceptions), Southview will obviously be focused on Anderson’s rushing attack.
“(Anderson) being defending state champions doesn’t bother me as much as the way they run the ball. They have big, strong linemen and have a (player) that runs it 40 times a game and just grinds it out,” said Mayzes.
“The last few weeks we’ve played teams that are really good at running the ball. We’ve got to be able to stop the run and we’re not a real big team so that is always a challenge for us.”
Isley is a first team All-Ohio selection on defense and is joined by Anderson linebacker Eli Anglim, who has 99 tackles this season (nine for loss).
“Southview is balanced with the run and the pass. The difficulty with Southview is everything,” Giesting said.
“We have a bunch of guys that just play really hard together. I don’t know if there are any superstars in the group. We’re not super athletic but they play really hard and communicate well.”
Prediction Sure To Go Awry
Both Anderson and Southview have shown they deserve to play for a state championship.
Defending state champ Anderson has faced adversity and risen to each occasion while Southview has put up astronomical numbers both individually and as a team on the way to a perfect season thus far.
But having been in this position last season and having shown its toughness early in the season as well as the postseason, I am going with Anderson to repeat in a physical 27-13 affair.