If it’s Fall in the state of Ohio, that means trees ablaze with color, pumpkins, turkeys, and cool crisp Autumn air. And in terms of sports —aside from the occasional postseason run by the Indians — fall means football. Football is as much a part of Ohio culture as complaining about the weather, too many orange barrels on the highway, and knowing that it’s pop, not soda. For so many of us our fall Saturdays are spent watching the Ohio State Buckeyes, and our fall Sundays watching the Cleveland Browns. But there’s another brand of football that is as much part of our DNA as the college and professional ranks, and that is high school football.
In Ohio, the high school football playoffs traditionally begin in the first weekend of November, and conclude 4 weeks later with the State Finals at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. During a regular season of 10 games, workers behind the scenes at the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) are working feverishly. They compare the results of teams and their schedules, ultimately plugging in the numbers into a computer which gives each team a computer ranking. This is a fairly similar process to that of the College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings in NCAA football. At the end of the season, 224 teams will earn the right to lay claim to the title of state champion. Why 224 you ask? There are 7 tournaments of 32 teams, one for each of the 7 divisions of schools, which are based on enrollment.
We start in Division 1, home to the state’s largest schools. In the Northeast region, the powerful Mentor Cardinals and Saint Ignatius Wildcats qualified #1 and #2. These two teams met in the Regional Finals last year and could be on a collision course once again. Mentor is looking for redemption in 2018 after going all the way to the State Final in 2017 but losing to Pickerington Central. Coach Steve Trivisanno and his men have one goal, but even getting out of a regional filled with fine teams like 3rd ranked Euclid, 4th ranked Solon, and 5th ranked Canton McKinley won’t be easy. As for 2nd ranked Ignatius, their reward for securing such a high ranking is a Holy War rematch against 7th ranked Saint Edward. That these two catholic school icons are battling in round 1 should give you an idea of how tough the Northeast region is. And while we are here, shout out to my alma mater Strongsville, who cracked in at #8 and have the privilege of being Mentor’s first round opponent.
Elsewhere in the Division 1 bracket, defending champion Pickerington Central is actually ranked #6 in the Southeast region despite an 8-2 record. A trio of 9-1 teams — Hilliard Davidson, Clayton Northmont, and Hilliard Bradley — are the top three seeds. In the Northwest region, 9-1 Reynoldsburg and 9-1 Dublin Coffman are the top two seeds, followed by 8-2 Toledo Whitmer at #3. And the Southwest region, the lone 10-0 team in division 1, Cincinnati Colerain, takes the top spot. Colerain is followed by #2 Mason and #3 Cincinnati Elder. Colerain, who were beaten in last year’s state semifinal to Pickerington Central, seem to be on a mission. However even they cannot overlook their first round opponent, traditional powerhouse Cincinnati Saint Xavier, who had a bit of a down year but managed to wiggle in at #8.
Overall, the Division 1 bracket seems to be very balanced. You could have a lot of upsets in the early rounds as the top teams have not proven to be unbeatable in the regular season. Picking a champion this year might be as hard as predicting the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament, though you wouldn’t be wrong to bet on Mentor, Ignatius, or Colerain to go all the way.
Moving onto Division 2, there were 3 undefeated 10-0 teams in the Northeast region this year: Akron Archbishop Hoban, Maple Heights, and Garfield Heights. These teams drew the #1, #2, and #5 seeds respectively, with 9-1 Nordonia and 8-2 Warren Harding landing with seeds 3 and 4, the rub being that Garfield Heights’s schedule was deemed by the OHSAA to be much weaker than that of Nordonia and Warren Harding. Still, an 8-2 team getting ranked higher than a 10-0? That’s an eyebrow raiser. Painesville Riverside, Youngstown Boardman, and Mayfield round out the region. Akron Archbishop Hoban steamrolled their way to the Division 2 state championship a year ago, and are actually going for a 4-peat this season. They certainly look a good bet to repeat this year based on their regular season form but they might have to go through two unbeaten teams just to reach the state semifinals this year.
Elsewhere in the Division 2 bracket, in the Northwest region you have two powerful undefeated teams in the Toledo area, Toledo Central Catholic and Whitehouse Anthony Wayne. Avon and Avon Lake are ranked 3rd and 4th. The Eagles of Avon reached the state semifinal last year and the Shoremen of Avon Lake are a traditional powerhouse. It’ll be interesting to see whether the two can knock off the unbeatens from Lucas County. Two other area teams, 5th ranked Olmsted Falls and 7th ranked Parma Heights Valley Forge are also in the mix. In the Southeast region, one of the true blue bloods of Ohio high school football, Massillon Washington, is 10-0 and the top seed. Not to be outdone, Barberton and Wadsworth are also 10-0 and seeded 2nd and 3rd, showing that the Akron/Canton area is very deep with great teams and not just a one-trick pony with Hoban. Dover and Wooster are in the field as well, having gone 8-2. No teams went unbeaten in the Southwest region, as a trio of 9-1 teams, Cincinnati Winton Woods, Kings Mills Kings, and Troy are seeded 1-2-3.
The Division 2 bracket is much more top heavy than the Division 1 bracket, and might not see much drama early, but the regional finals and onward should be very interesting indeed. Should chalk prevail and Akron Archbishop Hoban and Massillon Washington square off in the State Final, it will undoubtedly be the game of the year in Ohio HS football.
Moving onto Division 3, the defending Northeast Regional champion Akron Saint Vincent Saint Mary didn’t even make the playoffs this year. Instead, it’s Canfield, Chagrin Falls Kenston, and Medina Buckeye taking the top three seeds in the region, all going 9-1. It’s worth noting here that local powerhouse Cleveland Glenville was barred from this year’s tournament due to inaccurate player allocation based on residence by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. With SVSM and Glenville out, that’s going to open the door for other teams dreaming of a shot at glory. Clyde, Tiffin Columbian, and Bay Village Bay are the top 3 seeds in the Northwest region. Columbus Bishop Hartley, Granville, and Belbrook are the pace setters in the Southeast region. And in the Southwest, defending state champion Trotwood Madison barely squeaked in as the 7 seed. They’ll have to go through top seeds Kettering Alter, Wapakoneta, and Franklin Bishop Fenwick if they want a shot at repeating.
Steubenville won the Division 4 state championship a year ago and are looking to repeat. They are 9-1 this season and are seeded 2nd in the Northeast region, between top seed Perry and 3rd ranked Hubbard, both of whom also went 9-1. Bellville Clear Fork, Saint Clairsville, and Cincinnati Wyoming are the other top contenders in the field. All three went 10-0 and won the top seeds in the NW, SE, and SW regions respectively.
Orrville was the top team in Division 5’s northeast region. Gates Mills Gilmour Academy made waves this season going 10-0 and could also contend for the regional crown. Genoa, Johnstown Monroe, and Wheelersburg won the other regions. Middletown Madison had a 10-0 season to get the #2 in the SW.
Perhaps the OHSAA’s most controversial call came in Division 6. Despite being defending state champion and going 10-0 this season, Kirtland was only seeded 2nd in the Northeast region. Talk about not getting respect. 9-1 Mogadore was ranked ahead of Kirtland. That could be a regional final worth seeing if it comes to pass. Coldwater, Gibsonburg, and Bainbridge Paint Valley scored the top seeds elsewhere, the latter of which had a 10-0 season.
Lastly in Division 7, defending state runner-up Cuyahoga Heights will look for redemption and are the top seed in the Northeast region. Lucas, Fort Laramie, and Sycamore Mohawk are the other top seeds, with Sycamore Mohawk having recorded a 10-0 record.
Here at Living off the Land, we’ll be watching the results across the state over the month of November and seeing how all the gridiron madness plays out. It’s Fall Football Fever! Good luck to all of the schools in this year’s tournaments.