Kettering Alter won its first football state title last season and are the early favorite in 2009 (Photo by Nick Falzerano)
Division IV received a facelift thanks to realignment. Gone are stalwarts Youngstown Mooney,
Steubenville, Akron SVSM, Coldwater, Cincinnati Wyoming, Waverly
and New Lexington. Defending state champion Kettering Alter, however, hasn’t
gone anywhere. The Knights captured their first football state title last
year after coming close in 2006 and are the favorites to repeat this season.
Division IV received a facelift thanks to realignment.
Gone are stalwarts Youngstown Cardinal Mooney,
Steubenville, Akron St. Vincent St. Mary, Coldwater, Cincinnati Wyoming, Waverly
and New Lexington.
Defending state champion Kettering Alter, however, hasn’t
The Knights captured their first football state title last
year after coming close in 2006 (34-33 loss to Steubenville in the D-III state
final) and are the favorites to repeat this season.
Sure Alter has to replace standout quarterback Austin
Boucher, who led Ohio to a dramatic win in the Big 33 game and is now a freshman
at Miami (Ohio), and running back Chris Borland (Wisconsin), but there’s no
reason to believe Alter won’t be playing deep into November – and even into
Last year the Knights had to replace 10 starters on defense
and were able to overcome.
So who can challenge Alter?
Standout programs Martins Ferry, Chagrin Falls, Marion
Pleasant, Ironton, Clinton-Massie, Lorain Clearview, Elyria Catholic,
Williamsport Westfall and Kenton - among others - will give it a shot.
The Jets lived up to their nickname last
season, burning defenses with five-wide alignments and missiles from the arm of
quarterback Jordan Barbina, who threw for about 3,200 yards last season and
added a whopping 980 rushing to completely torment foes. The only obstacle they
couldn’t overcome was league rival Martins Ferry, losing to the Purple Riders in
both the regular season and the playoffs.
Barbina is off to Lake Erie College and in his
place will be junior Kyle Copland (6-1, 205), a fine athlete who prospered at
wideout last season. Copland will be one of seven new starters on offense,
although the Jets return WR Brandon Nichols and three offensive lineman.
“Our most important thing will be to know that
the strength of our team is now the defense,” fourth-year coach Mark Cisar said.
“Those guys have played and played in a lot of big games.”
Cisar isn’t sure if this year’s team will
throw as often – 386 times – as in 2008, but the concept will be the same.
The most dependable defender is Tyler Arigoni,
who was made to play linebacker despite his diminutive stature. He produced more
than 180 tackles last season and also pounced on nine fumbles, many of them at
very key times in games. Arigoni, LB Kyle Jarrett and LB Tyler Grant all will be
challenged to keep up their production, however, because of the loss of
all-conference defensive ends Bo Olexo and Eric Williams.
The standout on offense is Nichols, a track
star – he qualified for the state meet with a time of 49.5 seconds in the 400 –
who is fearless in the open field. A legitimate Division I prospect with 4.5
speed, Nichols hauled in 77 catches last season for more than 1,100 yards.
The schedule is littered with potential peril,
including road trips to St. Clairsville (Sept. 11) and Division III combatant
Richmond Edison (Oct. 2). But it’s safe to say the game to circle on the
calendar will be when Martins Ferry visits on Sept. 25.
The Tigers are on the prowl again after
advancing to the postseason last season in D-III and attaining immediate status
as a contender in D-IV.
Posting seven wins while facing a loaded
regular-season schedule last season, Chagrin Falls earned the No. 5 seed in
Region 9 of the Division III playoffs and then promptly knocked off powerful
Youngstown Liberty in the first round. Proving they were a tough out, the Tigers
lost a tight 21-17 contest to Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit in the second round to
finish at 8-4.
It’s safe to say coach Mark Iammarino’s squad
will carry confidence into the 2009 season despite the loss of several key
players including Andrew Klindera, Matt Diles, Jack Karlovec and Dan Mignogna.
In fact, the roster is headed by 25 seniors, including several of the top
players in the Chagrin Valley Conference. Also, Falls returns several
underclassmen who earned valuable time last season.
The offense returns seven starters and a dozen
lettermen, including a pair of skill players who were named All-Ohio last season
in RB/LB Chris Gorman and QB Chris Trinetti.
Gorman is sturdy and dependable and makes a
living between the tackles. He wasn’t always a first option out of the spread
but managed to put together some big games and rambled for more than 100 yards
in both of the postseason affairs. Meanwhile, Trinetti is coming off a
record-breaking season as he set a new school mark with more than 1,900 yards
passing and 18 touchdown tosses. He added 225 yards rushing a four more scores
on the ground.
Trinetti is missing some of his top receiving
targets from last season, but the Tigers believe they have an emerging weapon in
TE/DL Connor Clegg, who can get open against smaller defenders. Clegg also is an
The Tigers run a 4-3 defense and will feature
15 letterwinners on that side of the ball, including six first-teamers from a
year ago. LB Bobby Winkelman enters his third straight season as a starter and
is expected to lead the team in stops.
Put it all together and Chagrin Falls has star
power, size, speed, depth, postseason experience and a hunger to rule the roost
in Division IV.
The Purple Riders are going to leave teams
black and blue this season.
David Bruney, who enters his 31st year as
Martins Ferry head coach, has immense offensive and defensive lines, several
players who can bench well over 300 pounds and a pair of punishing runners who
double as hard-hitting inside linebackers.
TB Patrick Allen, for example, runs with a low
center of gravity and sheer force, which he also displays in the weight room
with a bench press of 380 pounds and a box squat of more than 600.
“He’s pretty amazing,” Bruney said. “He’s got
good feet and good hands and he’s tough enough that he helps us on defense, too.
He played some defensive end last year.”
Also in the backfield and playing at
linebacker next to Allen is FB Devon Parson, another physical specimen.
Handing off to those two and directing the
offense for the first time will be QB Marco Ricchetti, who played wide receiver
and corner last season. Ricchetti, who has 4.6 speed in the 40-yard dash, is one
of seven new starters on offense but also one of eight returning letterman who
will appear on that side of the ball.
Ferry’s 4-4-3 defense welcomes back six
starters, including TE Jordan Burress and OL Dalton Leach up front. Burress is a
Division I football prospect who also excels on the basketball court. Leach is a
wrestler and the strongest player on the team. Wells, another hoopster in the
winter, joins them on both lines and plays end on defense.
Jack Beavers, a rising junior, mans the other
DE spot while Cody McGee and youngster Michael Rose (5-9, 170) are expected to
flank Allen and Parson as outside linebackers. The secondary features a pair of
tall and fast defenders with Ricchetti and sophomore Tyrell Simmons (6-3, 185)
along the back line.
Martins Ferry, which lost to New Lexington in
the D-IV regional finals last season, opens its schedule against three Division
III opponents in Rayland Buckeye Local, Richmond Edison and Cadiz Harrison
Central. The season debut game with Buckeye Local should feature a taste of
revenge as the Purple Riders lost to that team on the road last season, 21-14,
after losing grip of seven fumbles and a 14-0 lead.
On most Friday nights, Martins Ferry may
simply overpower foes. Extending the season all the way into December, though,
will take more than brawn.
Matt Rosati arrived from West Geauga three
years ago and promptly guided the Pirates to the postseason in his first year at
the helm, although they were run off the field by Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in
the regional quarterfinals. Last season, the program made progress by playing in
three playoff games before being overcome by Steubenville 35-17 in the regional
“We have experience and we have a lot of kids
who have played in big football games,” Rosati said. “Really, there is not much
that has to be said now. We played deep into the playoffs and we also played
Aurora, the Division III state champs, and we felt we should have won that game.
“In the loss to Steubenville, we earned
respect from a lot of people by playing them pretty close. They pulled away from
us but our kids were not surprised we competed because we feel we can play with
anybody. We want to compete for the state championship. That’s our goal. We have
a pretty low-key group here but we know what’s at stake.”
Perry no doubt will miss running back/free
safety Mike Hanhauser, who scored a whopping 40 touchdowns last season. He now
toils for Lehigh. However, Rosati has expressed a belief in tailback Ben Perko
(6-2, 185), who broke his wrist last year but is back to carry the load.
Mitch Hovakar is a first-year starter and
takes over the quarterback duties from his departed older brother, Vinny, but he
arrives with high expectations. He started at free safety last year as a
sophomore, but saw time under center, including 20 snaps at QB in the regional
final. He threw 31 passes last season and completed 21 for 300 yards.
TE Anthony Kukawa has 4.6 speed, a 305 bench
and a 29-inch vertical leap. Last season he had 31 receptions for 470 yards and
seven TDs. He also picked off five passes from his outside linebacker spot. Not
only can Kukawa provide a target and help block up front, the Pirates are
blessed with an outstanding tackle in Rich Zalanka, who also excels in the
sports of baseball and basketball.
The defense should be anchored by LB David
Wallie, who is a blur when in pursuit and registered nine sacks in 2008. He is
one of four returning starters on defense while five return on offense.
The schedule will be challenging and includes
an Oct. 15 rematch at home with Aurora, a game that is ticketed for broadcast on
Sports Time Ohio. The Pirates close the regular season Oct. 30 at Chagrin Falls
in what should be one of the premier D-IV matchups of the entire season.
Also Keep An Eye On
Akron Manchester (7-3)
Opposing coaches are concerned the Panthers
are set to build on some quality wins from last year.
Massillon Tuslaw (10-2)
The Mustangs have endured some turnover this season (graduated 17 seniors) but
coach Nate Held has this program soaring. The key to maintaining “Blue Pride”
will be to get through the always-tough Principals Athletic Conference
relatively unscathed. Tuslaw took out Wooster Triway in the 2008 postseason but
couldn’t get by Perry in the second round. Held, entering his fourth year, is
St. Clairsville (7-4)
Always a team with which to contend, the Red Devils are looking to do damage in
the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference – and beyond. St. Clairsville has been to
the playoffs a school record three straight seasons.
Youngstown Liberty (8-3)
A playoff team in Division III a year ago, Liberty could prove to be the class
of this entire region. The Leopards are led by senior linebacker and Michigan
recruit Antonio Kinard (6-4, 210) who is rated the No. 25 prospect in Ohio by
Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy (9-2)
The Royals have been to the playoffs four straight years and five of the last
six. Last year they dropped a 14-6 decision to Cardinal Mooney in the first
round. Replacing two-time All-Ohio running back John Pettigrew (Bowling Green)
is a priority.
Even a Week 10 win over Youngstown Liberty last season wasn’t enough to propel
the Indians into the playoffs. Girard won nine games, but the first eight came
against opponents who failed to record a winning record or even reach .500.
The Big Reds were state semifinalists in 2006,
but since then have gone 4-16, including 0-10 in 2007. Former Bellaire standout
quarterback Jose Davis starts his first head coaching gig this season in charge
of his alma mater.
Leavittsville LaBrae (9-2)
The Vikings made their first playoff
appearance in school history last year. Now the goal is to win their first
playoff game. LaBrae lost to Tuslaw 28-0 in the first round.
Other Teams In The Region
(6-4), Atwater Waterloo (1-9), Beachwood (2-8), Brooklyn (4-6), Byesville
Meadowbrook (2-8), Canton Central Catholic (2-8), Cleveland Central Catholic
(3-7), Cortland Lakeview (7-3), Fairview Park Fairview (2-8), Garrettsville
Garfield (7-3), Gnadenhutten Indian Valley (2-8), Magnolia Sandy Valley (3-7),
Newton Falls (3-6), Peninsula Woodridge (5-5), Warren Champion (3-7), Wickliffe
(2-8), Zoarville Tuscarawas Valley (3-7)
Head coach Ben Malbasa enters his third season
at EC with a team capable of adding to the school’s lengthy tradition (three
state titles, but none since 1984). The Panthers return nine starters on defense
and seven offense.
Points should not be a problem. Josh Russ, a
Cincinnati commit, was first team All-Ohio last year as a receiver (35 catches,
651 yards, eight TDs). Danny Reaser, an honorable mention All-Ohioan, returns
after throwing for over 1,800 yards and 14 TDs in eight starts. Alex Allicea
rushed for over 1,000 yards and 15 TDs. Three starters return on the offensive
Defensively the Panthers will be stout. EC is
led by All-Ohio S Nick Ksenich (107 tackles), DB Zach Rogers (five
interceptions) and LB Buddy Davalia (19 tackles-for-loss). LB Corey Campbell, LB
Adam Kirsch and LB Mike Betka each added over 77 tackles.
As usual, a daunting schedule awaits with
non-league games against Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, Shaker Heights (D-I) and
Akron Hoban (D-II). The North Coast League White Division is no cake walk.
A lot is new for the Redmen, last year’s No. 1
seed in the region.
Quarterback Micah Hyde, who is ticketed to
play football at Iowa, is out the door along with five other starters on offense
and six on defense. Also, coach Tom Grine has moved on as well, opening the door
for Beau Carmon, who served the past two years on Grine’s staff as Fostoria’s
offensive line coach.
Even with all that turnover, there is plenty
of reason to believe the Redmen can contend once again.
The offensive line and receiving corps still
could be strengths.
“I’m excited about our line,” Carmon said of
the group he directed the past two seasons. “We will average 240 pounds up there
and we’ve got two returning starters. We are going to be a team built on speed
but I look for our offensive line to grind people up when we want to run it.”
Carmon expects to still get production out of
the team’s spread offense, especially with Tucker ready to become a productive
back and with receivers like WR Jordan Bulkowski and WR/CB Antoine Williams
still in the fold. Bulkowski gathered in 59 receptions for 588 yards and three
touchdowns last season and Williams, who has 4.5 speed, made 20 grabs on offense
along with playing his role of shutdown corner.
Also helping on defense will be C/DE Dominic
Zelenak, who made 40 tackles as a defensive lineman in 2008 and OLB Isaac Tyson,
who produced 30 stops and six sacks.
SS Jake Solether will lead the secondary and
isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty against the run as evidenced by his 68
tackles last season. He is able to take chances with Williams and Tucker ably
handling the duties at corner.
Still, it will be extremely difficult to for
offense to excel as it did with Hyde (Iowa), a special talent who threw for
2,457 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for 1,363 more yards and 24 scores. The heir
apparent to the signal caller spot is Perry Johnson. Johnson and the Redmen will
be tested right out of the chute as they host Ottawa-Glandorf in their opener.
The Clippers buzzed through the Patriot
Athletic Conference last season and the entire regular-season schedule, for that
matter, but their dream campaign ended in abrupt fashion – a 56-12 loss to
Ottawa-Glandorf in week 11.
Clearview should recover well, however,
especially since coach Mike Collier’s team can hitch the wagon once again to
TB/LB Anthony Hitchens.
Possessing good size, great speed and
elusiveness, Hitchens is sometimes a one-man spectacle on Friday nights as he
often mesmerizes fans and air-grabbing defenders.
“He’s the big ticket,” said Collier, who is
entering his third year at the helm of the program. “He’s a great athlete and he
has all the instincts.”
Hitchens rushed for 1,600 yards and 23
touchdowns last season en route to being named first-team all-state in Division
IV. He also caught a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a score, led the team in
tackles with 78 and found the end zone four more times as a defender. If that’s
not enough he’s also a standout basketball player and runs the 100-yard dash for
the track team.
Tony Williams and Curtis Alston can also run
the ball and should be called on occasionally as Clearview tries to control the
game on the ground at times. Collier employs multiple formations on offense and
different alignments on defense including a 3-5-3 look as well as a 4-2-5. Six
starters return on the defensive side of the ball and many of them are burners,
especially Williams. He was clocked at 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Ohio
State’s summer camp, which even topped Hitchens’ 4.63.
“Tony has a great nose for the ball and he can
really move out there,” Collier said. “He’s another basketball player and we
just had him for the first year last season, so he could really take off this
QB Zach Anderson is not quite in the phenom
category but he’s a third-year starter who will do whatever it takes to keep the
The Clippers’ schedule looks manageable once
again and they appear to have enough pieces in place to return to the
The Panthers weren’t highly regarded heading
into last season and, sure enough, they struggled against elite competition with
lopsided losses against Delphos Jefferson and Ada.
However, coach Chris Etzler – yet another
up-and-coming Division IV mentor entering his third season with his school –
likes what he has brewing.
“After our first winning season in 11 years,
we are looking forward to this season,” he said. “We have to replace some very
good players that were lost to graduation, but we feel we have pieces in place
to be successful again.”
The biggest reason for the optimism is well,
size. The defensive line especially could be among the best in the area with DT
Travis McPherson (6-2, 260, Sr.) inside, the similarly built OT/DE Dylan (6-2,
260, Jr.)Welch on the outside and DE Derek Schlatter (6-1, 220, Sr.) at the
opposite end. Welch already is being courted by Division I colleges as is
Miller, who is a road-grader along the offensive line.
One player who won’t need any time to find
comfort is DB Justin Riley, who covers the field sideline to sideline. He had 64
tackles and a pick last season.
You can just call ATH Cole Drake “Slash” if you like. Not
only does he play some quarterback for Triway, he also moves around to running
back and receiver and is a standout in the defensive backfield. He played
primarily under center last season but could move around liberally in ’09.
Along with possessing all the football prowess, Drake is
also an accomplished wrestler who qualified for the state tournament. In fact,
he may be too good an athlete to play only at QB, especially if Derek Carmichael
proves worthy of the job.
Triway is in transition as it will try to find the answers
without 2,000-yard running back Ben Cline and head coach Doug Haas. Now in
charge is former assistant Tony Lee, who was last on the Triway staff in 2004 as
the Titans’ offensive coordinator.
Triway competed in Region 13 last season and earned the No.
6 seed of the regional playoffs. However, after being co-champs of the Patriot
Athletic Conference, the Titans were felled in the first round of the postseason
in a 41-7 loss to Perry at Perry Alumni Stadium.
“We’ve got some really good skilled athletes coming back,”
Lee said. “We only return one lineman starter from last year. We’ve got kids
with potential, we just have to work them. That’s the key to the season, how our
unproven players develop, especially up front."
Triway’s schedule is littered with challenges, including
games with Millersburg West Holmes and Orrville. The Titans’ first two league
games are against Akron Manchester and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy.
Also Keep An Eye On
A late-season, 14-10 loss in the home finale with Riverdale was costly to the
Redmen as they ended up with the ninth-place rating in the region and just out
of the 2008 postseason. The previous season they posted a 9-1 mark but also were
on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Obviously there will be little margin
for error again this season.
Genoa Area (12-1)
Third-year coach Mike Vicars has turned
matters around big-time as he took a down-on-its-luck program to the regional
tournament each of the last two seasons and appears to be in position to make it
three for three. Area, in fact, was a state powerhouse last year with an
undefeated regular season and by rocketing past Huron, Fostoria and
Ottawa-Glandorf in the postseason. The Comets didn’t stop until losing a 42-34
thriller in the state semis against Kettering Alter, which went on the defeat
Steubenville for the D-IV title.
The Tigers will be looking to make the playoffs for the eighth time in the last
10 years but they’ll have to do so without several departed players including
tailback Craig Thorne, quarterback Mike Mielke and linebacker Cody Koenig. They
lost in the first round of the postseason in what amounted to an away game with
LaGrange Keystone (3-7)
Yes, we can read the record from last season
but coach Rob Clarico has been working hard to build up this program and the
Wildcats were 8-2 in 2007. Last season, no less than 14 players were lost to
season-ending injuries. That forced the coaching staff to put a total of 10
freshmen and sophomores into starting roles. One of them, diminutive tailback
Ryan Clement (5-5, 140), gained 381 rushing yards in just 50 carries as a frosh
and proved he belonged on the big stage. The ’Cats also return running back Jim
Reid (5-6, 160), who missed most of last season, and leading tackler Casey
Conrad (5-9, 190), an active linebacker.
The Titans wowed teams with their athleticism last year and destroyed Lorain
Clearview in the first round of last year’s Region 14 tourney. They also clipped
Marion Pleasant 28-21 in overtime before losing in the regional final to Genoa
Area. More explosions could be in store even though many skill players have
The Red Riders look to get back to the playoffs after missing out the past 2 years. A switch from Region 13 to Region 14, plus a large and experienced senior class is once again fueling high expectations. They will be led on defense by senior LB Chase Hoobler (129 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT) who is weighing multiple D-I scholarship offers. Senior wideout Sam Miller (38 rec., 585 yds, 5 TD) leads a deep receiving corps that dual threat QB Joe Besancon (1800 pass yds, 600+ rush yds, 16 total TD's) will target often. Early season matchups with Northwest (Week 1) and D-II power Lexington (Week 4) will go a long way to deciding the Riders fate.
Pemberville Eastwood (8-3)
The Eagles played well in Suburban Lakes League action as usual last season and
earned the sixth seed of the regional tournament. They were clipped in the first
round by Marion Pleasant, 20-7, but still will be able to field some impressive
athletes in ’09. Among them is senior running back Cody Seifert.
Creston Norwayne (8-3)
The Bobcats earned the first playoff berth in school history last season with an
appearance in the D-V, Region 17 quarterfinals. After bumping up a division, can
they add another postseason berth?
Other Teams In The Region
Bellville Clear Fork
(5-5), Doylestown Chippewa (4-6), Galion (5-5), Mansfield Ontario (4-6),
Metamora Evergreen (4-6), Milan Edison (7-3), Millbury Lake (3-7), Port Clinton
(1-9), Rossford (0-10), Sheffield Brookside (0-10), Sullivan Black River (5-5),
Swanton (3-7), Tontogany Ostego (1-9), Upper Sandusky (3-7), Van Wert (3-7),
Wauseon (5-5), Wellington (4-6).