The stakes are high, and Medina County rivals Highland and Wadsworth are well-aware of that heading into tonight’s Suburban League football showdown in Granger Township.
Both teams have 3-0 records against easy non-league schedules. The loser could still finish the year with 6-8 wins, meaning a boatload of computer points are on the line.
If there’s anything such as a key Week 4 game, this is it. Add the fact the neighboring schools don’t exactly like each other and a rain-filled donnybrook is a distinct possibility.
“It’s very exciting. We’ve prepared all year for this type of game,” Grizzlies two-way lineman Chandler Martinez said Thursday. “We’re hoping to get the win, but we’ve worked all week as hard as we can.”
The weather forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain with possible thunderstorms and complicates a matchup already noted for its contrast in philosophies. Wadsworth’s I-formation offense is run-first, run-second and pass-only-when-necessary, while Highland’s spread prefers to establish balance so it can create big-play opportunities through the passing game.
“We need to keep the ball on the ground and keep the ball with us like we did (in a 26-13 win) against Medina,” Martinez said. “We need to keep the ball for 8 minutes, 9 minutes in one quarter. That’s what it’s all about.”
Despite four new starters on the offensive line, Highland has picked up where it left off following a record-setting 2012 and is averaging 43.3 points per game. Reigning Gazette MVP Bruce Kinsey is 32-for-62 passing for 491 yards, five touchdowns and a 98.3 NFL rating, All-Gazette receiver Cory Moncol has 17 receptions for 319 yards and first-year starter Alex Harris has been one of the area’s biggest surprises with 379 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
“The biggest challenge will be deciphering their defense and knowing exactly what to do,” said 6-foot, 175-pound Hornets center Tanner Ramey, who earned team-wide respect by bending a facemask beyond repair earlier this season. “They’re different than most, but we’re just going to go out and play fast.”
Wadsworth’s biggest concern will likely be slowing down Moncol, though his effectiveness could be limited if the Grizzlies make Highland one-dimensional and counter with double-coverage.
Working in Wadsworth’s favor are two outstanding performances against pass-heavy Ashland and Wooster.
“(There are) high stakes in terms of the league and everything. It makes a big difference,” hard-hitting Wadsworth cornerback Cyler Caldwell said. “It comes down to everyone doing their own job — doing the thing they need to get done — and playing as a team to shut them down and get the win.”
For the umpteenth time under coach Greg Dennison, the Grizzlies counter with an old-fashioned but extremely fundamentally sound rushing attack led by 5-foot-8, 209-pound senior Martice Jackson (87 carries, 676 yards, 4 TDs), who has three consecutive 200-yard games. Scott Campbell (22, 164, 1) has been steady in reserve, while fullbacks Shane Mast and Greg Young bring a different wrinkle on traps.
Wadsworth’s passing game has been inconsistent — the Grizzlies average 52.3 yards on 9.7 attempts — but came up with a couple key plays last week against Medina.
“Obviously, Wadsworth is going to be a challenge,” Highland linebacker James Friedl said. “We respect their running game and Martice is good, so I feel like it’s going to be a challenge, but I feel we’re prepared to (meet) it.”
Both defenses have been stout in the early going and will face their biggest battles of the season.
The Hornets are led by linebackers Friedl (23 tackles, 3½ for loss, 3 pass breakups) and Jonny Zaz (19 tackles, INT) and corners Coltin Kinsey and Moncol (3 INTs) and are the county’s top statistical unit (12.3 points, 127.3 yards), while the Grizzlies are a close No. 2 (11.0, 245.0) behind the efforts of linemen Tyler Erbse (6 TFL, 4 sacks) and Martinez (3½ TFL), linebacker Nick Winkler (31 tackles) and All-Gazette safeties Ryan Looser (3 forced fumbles, INT) and Austin White (22 tackles).
Judging by recent history — the series is 6-6 since 2000 after Wadsworth won 18 of the first 19 — their intensity will be dialed to the max.
“This game means a lot here,” Friedl said. “I mean, obviously Wadsworth is a big rival to us. We have an anger towards them and want to hit them.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.