The sweat from two-a-day practices, the excitement of homecoming games and the long grind of league schedules all hopefully culminate in one thing — the chance to play football in Week 11.
Five area teams — Elyria, Avon, Avon Lake, Columbia and Black River — will have that chance this weekend when the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs get underway.
Elyria is in the Division I playoffs for the second time — the first time coming in 2005 — and will face a familiar foe Saturday at 7 p.m.. The Pioneers (7-3) will travel to Stow (9-1) for a rematch against their fellow Northeast Ohio Conference River Division mates. Stow defeated Elyria, 20-7, in Week 9.
The Bulldogs finished seventh in Division I, Region 1, while Elyria was 10th. The top 16 teams in Division I advanced to the playoffs.
“I think a rematch is a better deal for the team that lost the first time,” Elyria coach Kevin Fell said. “The team that won feels like they only have to make a few minor adjustments to what already worked, but the team that lost can learn from its mistakes.”
Stow’s last trip to the playoffs was in 1995 when it lost to a Lakewood team coached by Fell, who will be coaching in the playoffs for the 15th time.
“Everyone here is thrilled to be in this position,” Fell said. “We’ve been close the past two years. This year we made it.”
Although Elyria knew for weeks that it would make the playoffs, Fell said the team remained focused on a strong finish to the regular season.
“Nobody wanted to go into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak,” he said. “You want to put your best foot forward. On Saturday when the kids came in they started to enjoy it and grasp what playoff football is about.”
Two area teams — Avon and Columbia — finished the regular season 10-0 and will open at home. The Eagles will host Toledo St. Francis de Sales (8-2) in a Division II regional quarterfinal Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Raiders will host Chippewa (8-2) in a Division V game on Saturday at 7.
“We’re ecstatic right now,” said Columbia coach Jason Ward, whose Raiders were the top seed in Division V, Region 14. “We had high expectations and set high goals coming into this season and we’ve already achieved some of the goals, going 10-0, winning our league and earning a home game in the first round.”
This is the Raiders’ fifth time in the playoffs. They won the first playoff game in school history last year on their home field.
“Because of our region it’s very important to us to have a home game,” Ward said. “There is the potential of having a two hour or more bus ride to some of the schools out west. Plus, we have such great support from our community we want to give them another home game and give our seniors one more chance to play in front of their fans.”
Avon’s 10-0 record earned it another West Shore Conference title and the No. 2 seed in Division II, Region 4, but coach Mike Elder said none of that matters now.
“We talk about there being two seasons,” he said. “In the first season, the OHSAA gives you 10 games to win a league title and earn computer points. But now we’re 0-0 and St. Francis de Sales is 0-0. The first one to five wins is the state champion.”
The Eagles have a 3-1 record in home playoff games over the last five years. This is the Eagles’ fourth consecutive playoff appearance and the seventh in school history.
“We feel like Avon Stadium is a special place to play,” Elder said. “The student-body support has been phenomenal. It always creates an extra buzz on the sidelines.”
After last Friday’s loss to Keystone, Black River coach Al Young thought his Pirates would be heading on the road for Week 11. However, Black River (7-3) held on to the No. 4 seed in Division V, Region 15, and will host Fairless on Saturday at 7 p.m..
“Anytime you’re playing football in Week 11 you know you’ve done something right,” Young said. “We know Fairless is a tough team and they play in a real good league out there. We’ll spend the next two days learning about them and game-planning for them.”
Black River is making its ninth trip to the playoffs and its first since 2011. It is the third time the Pirates have earned the right to play their first-round game at home.
Avon Lake (8-2) will be on he road Friday to take on Suburban League champion Highland at North Royalton High School. The Hornets come into the game with a 10-0 record and as the top seed in Division II, Region 4.
Avon Lake is making its 18th playoff appearance, including 14 in the past 16 years, but it will be the first with coach Larry Laird at the helm. The longtime assistant coach replaced Dave Dlugosz, who retired as head coach after the 2012 season but still serves as an assistant.
The Shoremen finished eighth in Division II, Region 4. Last season the Shoremen made the playoffs in Division I.
They were state champions in Division II in 2003.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Division II, region 4
- #7 Toledo St. Francis de Sales (8-2) at #2 Avon (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
- #8 Avon Lake (8-2) vs. #1 Medina Highland (10-0) at North Royalton High School, 7:30 p.m.
Division I, region 1
- #10 Elyria (7-3) at #7 Stow-Munroe Falls (9-1), 7 p.m.
Division V, region 15
- #5 Navarre Fairless (7-3) at #4 Black River (7-3), 7 p.m.
Division V, region 16
- #8 Doylestown Chippewa (8-2) at #1 Columbia (10-0), 7 p.m.