July 2, 2016

Partly cloudy

Rivals Wadsworth and Medina set for battle

MEDINA — It’s the third week of the prep football season, so it’s no secret who Wadsworth and Medina are playing.
Each other.

“We’re playing Wadsworth this week?” Bees coach Greg Reed deadpanned. “I thought we were playing Stow.”

Reed knows full well his 1-1 Bees are playing the 2-0 Grizzlies in non-league action tonight at 7:30, but if he needs a reminder, all he’ll need to do is look in the stands at Kenneth Dukes Stadium. The visiting side will be a sea of red, while the home stands will be full of green.

Listen online on WEOL. (Game will air about 9:30 or 10 p.m., following the 7:30 p.m. Lorain County matchup, Firelands at Keystone.)

Emotions will be high on both sides in the Medina County rivalry, which dates back to at least 1906, when the teams played to a scoreless tie.

“They talk about Wadsworth and we talk about them,” Grizzlies quarterback Caleb Busson said. “We want to beat them every year. You can tell they don’t like us and we don’t like them. It’s intense. It’s for bragging rights.”

The Grizzlies lead the series 33-27-2 — at least in games The Gazette has records of — and have not lost in Medina since 1997. It was after that 14-13 Bees victory that then Medina coach John Semenik uttered this quote, completely unsolicited:

“All we heard about all week was how holier-than-thou Wadsworth was. Wadsworth is a big fish in a small pond. We’re trying to be a big fish in a big pond.”

Pick up today’s Gazette in print or read the “E”dition for complete preview coverage of high school football Week 3. Get staff picks, standings and stats, The Gazette Top 10 poll and game-by-game breakdown.

That’s an indication of just how seriously the schools take this meeting, which features the biggest school in the Suburban League, Wadsworth, against even bigger Medina, which has struggled against upper-echelon teams in first the Pioneer Conference, of which the Grizzlies used to be a member, and now the rugged Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division.

“We’re close cities,” Medina receiver Tyler Gonzales said. “I don’t think there’s hatred or anything. We’re just two really competitive teams.”

The Grizzlies have won nine of the last 10 meetings, but several have required amazing plays or finishes.

Medina had a double-digit lead at Art Wright Stadium in 2002, only to have the Grizzlies stage a remarkable rally in the closing moments of regulation and win 26-23 in overtime.

In 2003, Wadsworth eked out a 31-28 victory, and in 2005, Reed’s first season as Medina’s head coach, the Grizzlies held on for a 27-26 win when the Bees unsuccessfully went for two with no time on the clock.

Two years ago, when the teams last met in Medina, the Grizzlies ran a fumble back 100 yards for a TD, but still needed overtime to win 30-24.

“We’ve had some crazy games against them that somehow we’ve pulled out,” 15th-year Wadsworth coach Greg Dennison said. “We’re going to have to play well, and we know that. It’s nine out of 10 (for the Grizzlies), but it’s not like we’ve dominated them.”

The Grizzlies, the preseason favorite to win the SL, are led by Busson, receiver Anthony Schrock, a University of Akron recruit, sophomore tailback Jack Snowball and one of the better offensive lines they’ve had in recent years.

“They’re a very good team,” Reed said. “This is probably one of the most athletic teams (Dennison) has had.”

Medina counters with the two-quarterback tandem of shifty Justin Letts and classic drop-back passer Noah Johanson, plus a host of speedy receivers and an undersized but quick defense.

“We’re excited to play them,” Dennison said. “It’s a game our kids talk about throughout the year.”

It’s also a game the players – most have grown up watching the series – will remember long after they graduate from high school.

Wadsworth’s Busson was quick to recall older brother Luke playing in the Grizzlies’ thrilling OT win in 2002, while Medina’s Gonzales, a former ball boy, recalls standing behind the end zone for the Bees’ failed two-point conversion attempt in ’05.

“Every year they bring out their best for us, and we’ve got our guys ready to play their best,” Busson said. “This rivalry is huge. We’re going as hard as we can, because you never want to give up bragging rights to the other school.”

Added Gonzales: “Ever since I was little, I’ve always had Wadsworth as our No. 1 rival. I’m really pumped for this game. They’re a real physical team. They’re going to be hard to beat, but I think we can do it. We have a lot of heart. As long as we fight until the end, we can do it.”

If history is any indication, fans should expect the unexpected tonight.

Whether it’s Grizzlies linebacker Jake Palidar going a county-record 100 yards with a fumble recovery in 2007 or Medina dominating up front like it did in a 52-20 win in 2006 — its lone victory in the series in the last 10 years — anything and everything could happen in this one.

“We’re close cities and our kids know each other,” Dennison said. “It’s got everything you think of in a rivalry. We know we’re going to get their best effort for four quarters, like we always do.”

By the numbers

  • 4: Games decided by three points or less in the last 10 meetings.
  • 9: Wins by Wadsworth in the last 10 games of the  series.
  • 14: Miles between the rival high schools.
  • 1997: Last time Medina defeated Wadsworth at Kenneth Dukes Stadium.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.