It was bound to happen eventually.
Medina County football teams were shut out of the playoffs for the first time since 1994 when the final Ohio High School Athletic Association regional pairings were announced Sunday.
Only four teams per region advanced when Black River became the first county team to make in the playoffs in 1985. In 1994, the current six-division format was implented, while the tournament was expanded to eight teams per region in 1999.
Highland (7-3) fell just shy in Division II, Region 6 with a ninth-place finish despite a 20.2000 computer average.
“It’s tough,” said coach Tom Lombardo, whose team qualified with a 17.9000 average last season. “We challenged the kids after Week 6 (a 35-21 loss to Tallmadge) and said every game was a playoff game, and we accomplished it. We thought that would get us enough (points) to get in.
“I told the kids we were a tough out if we got to Week 11. You can’t control it, so we’re satisfied we reached our goal. The numbers just didn’t work out.”
The only other county team with an outside shot heading into Week 10 was Brunswick (7-3). The Blue Devils, whose took a major blow with a 26-14 loss to Twinsburg in Week 7, received second-level help from Padua and Solon to finish with an average of 19.650, but ended 10th in D-I, Region 2 and well behind No. 8 Nordonia (22.550).
Wadsworth (6-4) and Black River (6-4) also finished in the top half of their respective regions — 13th in Region 2 and 13th in D-IV, Region 13.
The Hornets appeared in deep trouble following a 35-21 loss to Suburban League power Tallmadge in Week 6 and rock-steady Green and then-SL-leader Nordonia remaining on the schedule.
Highland refused to lie down, though, and defeated Revere (56-0) and the Bulldogs (43-21) before escaping with narrow wins over the Knights (22-20) and Cloverleaf (21-20) to close the season.
“We’re playing well right now, obviously, if we’re going into the thing,” Lombardo said. “The numbers didn’t work out, but it says a lot about their character. As far as we’re concerned, we did what we had to do.”
The problem was the Hornets didn’t receive enough outside help. Mansfield Madison (22.550) crushed Mansfield Senior (22.4338) to secure a berth, and Perrysburg (23.950) manhandled Maumee.
Adding to the heartbreak, Midview (22.4500) narrowly avoided a major upset when it won in overtime against three-win Bay to cement Highland’s fate.
Highland has qualified for the playoffs three times in Lombardo’s six years as coach, including eighth-place finishes in 2009 and 2011, but will look back at two close losses that could have went either way.
In Week 3, the Hornets scored 51 points and still lost to North Royalton. The key play was the Bears taking a 56-44 lead via a 71-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 with 6:03 left.
Just two weeks later, a failed two-point conversion with no time on the clock resulted in a 24-23 loss to Copley, whose star running back, Cincinnati recruit Aregeros Turner, was shut down until a 77-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter.
Bitter pills like those are hard to swallow.
“I do it constantly,” a chuckling Lombardo said of second-guessing. “I just have to tell myself, ‘You cant do it.’ There are many plays in both those games. Ya never know. If we would have beat Copley, we might not have won the last four because of the mindset of the kids may have been different.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.