Thursday, November 04, 1999

Expanded playoffs promise November Madness

What football fans should know about opening weekend

Enquirer contributor

        Welcome to what could be the most exciting week of high school football in Cincinnati history.

        At least, that's the theory. The grand experiment of expanded playoffs hits home this weekend, with 19 area high schools taking the initial step towards a dream of winning an Ohio state championship.

  (6) Mason (8-2) at (3) Centerville (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
  (8) Vandalia Butler (6-4) at (1) Kings (9-1), 7:30 p.m.
  (5) Springboro (8-2) at (4) Lebanon (8-2), 7:30 p.m.
  (7) McNicholas (7-3) at (2) Trenton Edgewood (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
 (8) New Richmond (8-2) at (1) London (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
  (7) Purcell Marian (7-3) at (2) Bellbrook (10-0), 7:30 p.m.
  (6) West Alexandria Twin Valley S. (9-1) at (3) Batavia (10-0), 7:30 p.m.

  (8) Moeller (6-4) at (1) St. Xavier (9-0), 7:30 p.m.
  (5) Huber Hts. Wayne (9-1) at (4) Fairfield (8-2), 7 p.m.
  (7) Oak Hills (7-3) at (2) Elder (8-1), 7 p.m.
  (8) Ironton (6-3) at (1) Wyoming (9-1), 7 p.m.
  (5) Madeira (9-1) at (4) Indian Hill (9-1), 7 p.m.
  (6) Hamilton Badin (7-3) at (3) Wheelersburg (9-1), 7 p.m. Saturday
  (7) Mechanicsburg (7-3) at (2) CCD (10-0), 7 p.m.

        It will take five wins to win a title instead of four, with the number of teams in the playoffs doubled to a total of 192 in six divisions this year. That expansion has its detractors, but they're hard to find among the schools that are preparing to play this weekend.

        “The more people who can be in it the better, because I know how neat it is for a school to go through this,” said St. Xavier coach Steve Rasso, whose 9-0 team city champion and No.2-ranked team in Ohio in Division I.

        The reason for the expansion is that too many deserving teams were being shut out of the playoffs when only the top four teams in Harbin computer points in each division qualilfied. For instance, New Richmond twice had 10-0 teams that sat at home.

        Oak Hills, Kings, Springboro, New Richmond and Batavia all are in the playoffs for the first time. Under the old system, only Kings and Batavia would have qualified.

        “This has been great. The whole town has been going nuts,” said Batavia coach Jamie Corrill. “I've been talking to the mayor and the trustees. They all want to do things for the football team.”

        Fairfield is in for the first time since winning the Division I state championship 13 years ago.

        “The playoffs are so much fun for your kids and your school,”

        said third-year coach Tom Grippa., who previously was the first coach to take Elder to the playoffs. “This (expansion) is way overdue. The schools that are in enjoy such a big thrill. You identify success with the playoffs.”

        The region's top four teams in each division get the added bonus of playing on their home field.

        That's a particularly daunting prospect for Oak Hills, which will face 10,000-plus fans in the Elder Pit.

        But don't be surprised if a few of the lower-ranked teams pull off upsets. And perhaps one or two could even go on a Cinderella-type run to create some real tournament-style madness.

        Here's a rundown on things to watch this weekend and throughout the playoffs:

        • On title watch: St. Xavier has twice been state runner-up, including last year when it lost to Canton McKinley. Lebanon won the Division II title last year and, despite an 8-2 regular season, carries expectations again this year.

        • On the cusp: Cincinnati Country Day (eight appearances) and Elder (six appearances) are playoff regulars looking to make a run at their first titles.

        • 1986 revisited?: Three local teams brought home state titles in 1986. Fairfield is back in the playoffs for the first time since that year and Purcell Marian is also in. The third '86 champ, Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, is now defunct, but that team's coach, Steve Sheehan, has Oak Hills in the playoffs for the first time.

        • Repeat business: Besides Fairfield, Lebanon and Purcell Marian, Badin (title in 1990), Moeller (1985, '82, '80, '79, '77, '76 and '75) and Wyoming (1977) have previously won state crowns.

        • Hottest rivalry: Moeller vs. St. Xavier. A lot of history between these two schools, which staged a classic playoff battle in '97 when Moeller won by three points on its way to the state title game. Figure in the disparity in records this year (Moeller is 6-4, St. Xavier 9-0) plus the fact Moeller gave St. X its biggest scare of the regular season (a 21-19 St. X victory), and there's no shortage of dynamics affecting this game.

        • Upset potential: Badin vs. Wheelersburg. Wheelersburg was No.1 in Ohio Division IV before being upset last week. Now it faces a tough draw in Badin, a physical, experienced team from the top-notch Greater Catholic League that should benefit from a move down from Division III this year.

        • First win: The Division IV matchup between Madeira and Indian Hill guarantees one will get its first playoff win. Each school has been in the playoffs once before.

        • Unbeatens: Four local teams enter the playoffs unbeaten: St. Xavier, Edgewood, Batavia and Cincinnati Country Day.

        • Kids on the spot: A number of area teams will rely on young players to come up big. Sophomores falling into this category include St. X quarterback Marty Mooney, Oak Hills quarterback Rik Menchen and running back Alex Arinsmeier, Fairfield safety/kicking specialist Jason Brown, New Richmond halfback John McMonigle, McNicholas quarterback Bryan Cupito and Wyoming fullback P.J. Pope. Moeller is relying on a rare freshman on the varsity — defensive back Eric Thatcher.

        • Mr. First Down: Cincinnati Country Day running back Jon Smith, the area's top rusher, averages 10.9 yards per carry.“He's had as good a year as any running back has ever had for us,” said CCD coach Tim Dunn. Smith ran for 2,035 yards and averaged 43.6 yards per return on kickoffs. Right behind him is Lebanon's Nick Singleton (1,850 yards), who averages 9.5 yards per carry.

        Other local runners in the playoffs with more than 1,500 yards are Fairfield's Earl Haynes (1,983), Wyoming's David Dupee (1,654) and Moeller's Marcus Blanks (school single-season record 1,534).

        • Mr. First Down, Part II: It usually works out well if Madeira's Tim Dooley drops back to pass. Dooley averaged 11.2 yards per pass attempt, while throwing for 1,070 yards this year. Elder's Collin Carey averaged 10.6 yards per attempt while throwing for 1,681 yards.

        Other area quarterbacks in the playoffs with more than 1,500 passing yards: McNicholas's Bryan Cupito (1,887) and Mason's Adam Livingston (1,603).

        • All-purpose guy: If you're looking for the most dangerous guy in the playoffs when he gets his hands on the ball, you be hard-pressed to overlook St. Xavier's Michael Larkin. Larkin caught 31 passes for 497 yards, but excelled as a kick returner, averaging 38.8 yards per kickoff return and an outrageous 36.0 yards per punt return.


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