History should never be ignored because context legitimizes an accomplishment. Too many times the sporting world is quick to judge a team, player or game as the best or worst of all time by being an emotional prisoner of the moment.
Tonight is deservedly headlined by
6-0 Buckeye traveling to 6-0 Black River for a share of first place in the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division. There is no bigger Medina County rivalry on the football field — sorry, Medina and Brunswick — because nothing compares to the consistent passion of rural communities. Families often are intertwined and bragging rights last a lifetime.
Fact: This will be only the third time in county history undefeated area teams have hooked up this late in the season. Then-Suburban League whipping boy Highland stunned traditional power Wadsworth 38-17 on Oct. 12, 2001 in a war of 7-0 teams, while 6-0 Wadsworth manhandled 6-0 Brunswick 34-8 in an Oct. 21, 1966 Chippewa Conference game.
How’s that for context?
Black River and Buckeye have yet to play undefeated Firelands, so that steals a little luster. However, this game is, without question, every bit as anticipated as when the 8-1 Bucks knocked off the 8-1 Pirates 10-9 on a late Ryan Hoover field goal to win the Mohican Area Conference championship on Oct. 25, 2002. The players still call that one “The Game.”
Dodge the horse-and-buggy traffic and get to Art Stevenson Field, even if you’re not a Buckeye or Black River fan. Tonight may be a classic since the contrasts are fascinating, with the only similarity being ball-control offenses.
That starts with feisty, magnetic 28th-year Pirates coach Al Young in his first meeting against first-class and somehow underrated Bucks coach Greg Dennison, who’s in his 24th overall season. They are Nos. 1 and 2 in county history with 341 combined victories, and their players have taken on their personalities, as Black River excels with moxie and subdued Buckeye is extremely businesslike.
The Bucks have won 19 straight PAC Stars games, 33-of-34 overall in the regular season and, to be blunt, are more athletic at the skill positions with depth to boot. Receivers Justin Canedy, Jonathon Neel and Anthony Watkins, tailback Dominic Monaco and quarterback Adam Fauver individually would be the focal point of any other PAC offense, and all would start for Black River.
But the Pirates are frothing at the mouth, spending every baited breath dreaming of how to beat Buckeye after losing the last three meetings 56-27, 48-7 and 17-7. A take-no-prisoners 3-4 defense led by end Jeff Owen, linebackers Alex Vormelker, Trevor Scott, Spencer Constable and Jacob Campbell and free safety Garrett Hord has been nasty, allowing only three first-team touchdowns all season.
The game-deciding matchup is clear: Buckeye’s offense (39.0 ppg) against Black River’s defense (6.2).
Through no fault of their own, the Pirates have played an awful schedule, with the only true test a 21-13 decision against 3-3 Northwestern. More pressing, Black River hasn’t seen a quarterback in the same zip code as Fauver, a poor-man’s version of 2013 Highland star Bruce Kinsey, the only two-time Gazette MVP who was a tremendous leader and tactician.
Black River first must contend with the power run game of Fauver and Monaco, be it from shotgun, I-formation or pistol. The Pirates also have to be weary of jet sweeps to Canedy, one of the county’s top speedsters who has touchdowns of 31, 68, 77 and 92 yards despite not being used nearly enough.
But the X-factor will be the long-developing play-action game Dennison has lived by for years. Tight end Logan Schulz has been a monster with seven catches for 186 yards — almost all have been comically open — and Neel, Canedy and Watkins also have had moments. Don’t sleep on trick plays, either, as the Bucks have recently kept them under wraps for when they truly need them.
Black River will do what Black River does: Blitz the edges early and often. The 3-4 scheme coordinator Kyle Clark brought from Ashland University has done wonders — just three years ago the Pirates were a laughingstock that gave up 39.9 points per game — and there’s no sense changing what got it to this point. The only question is whether the Pirates will use zone or go high-risk with man coverage.
Can the Black River line of Mitchell Young, Owen and the rotation of Joey Duche and Cole Haswell keep veteran Bucks counterparts Ryan Smith, Dom Kriz, Spencer Murphy, Turner Mitchell and Luke Conrad from getting to the second level? Can Hord keep corners Brandon Weidrick and Caleb Simonson and strong safety Justin Zacharyasz organized and limit momentum-swinging play-action passes?
As for Buckeye’s starless but deep defense that rotates players at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and strong safety, discipline will be the word of the week. Black River coordinator Matt Stafford has taken the double wing-T to a new level by using the new-age pistol with multiple unbalanced formations, allowing the Pirates to run options and devastate with pop passes to wingback Riley Gibbs.
The Bucks also use a 3-4 but in a read-and-react form instead of going for broke with multiple blitzes. The front is adjustable, be it an overhanging linebacker to create a 4-3 or putting both outside backers in three-point stances for a 5-2. Expect all three looks from experienced coordinator Luke Beal.
The critical matchup involves Black River’s backbone of interior linemen Haswell, Young and Scott. Buckeye’s inside linebackers attack recklessly at times, and the poor angles led to shaky moments against Revere fireplug Matt Buser and Columbia beast Brandon Coleman. The Pirates make hay with deception.
Over-aggressiveness may lead to massive holes for (or blow up) the Pirates’ trap and belly plays to 6-foot, 195-pound fullback Campbell, who has scored a mindboggling 62 points in the last two games.
The quick-cutting Gibbs wrecking havoc through the air or on sweeps/counters is made possible partly by Campbell steamrolling linebackers and DBs, and Black River will get a boost with the return of wingback Travis Sexton, who left last week’s game at Keystone with an injury. The three-year starter is one of the top blocking backs in the county.
Can Buckeye linebackers Anthony Musarra, Monaco, Gage Williams, Austin Bir, Mitchell and Isaiah Williams stay home and prevent the Pirates from dictating tempo? Can safeties Collin Graham, Evan Tesar and Pat Caniglia keep Gibbs from snagging a seam pass? Corners Watkins and Neel need to be careful, too, because a simple jet or buck sweep could go down the sideline and to the house.
All the scheming in the world — they’ll be plenty — often goes out the window once a rivalry game kicks off. There will be pad-smacking regardless of victor, and the atmosphere will be playoff-quality.
Nights like these are rare in county high school football. Facts prove that, so embrace the hype.
As for a prediction? Well, the computer simulation website fantastic50.net lists Buckeye as an eight-point favorite. That sounds a little low on paper, but don’t underestimate the monkey in the room: Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Talk about playing it down the middle, huh?
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or email@example.com.