Medina County has a Fab Five in the football playoffs for the first time.
Black River (Division V, Region 15), Brunswick (D-I, Region 1), Buckeye (D-III, Region 8), Highland (D-II, Region 4) and Wadsworth (D-I, Region 1) qualified for the postseason when the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced first-round pairings Sunday.
The previous county standard was three in 2003 and 2009, but the OHSAA expanded to seven divisions this season.
The state-ranked Hornets (10-0) led the charge by securing the No. 1 seed in their region. They will host Avon Lake (8-2), which is coached by former Medina headman Larry Laird.
The game, however, won’t be at outdated Highland Stadium, as the schools have agreed to move it to North Royalton’s spacious Serpentini Stadium that has more than 4,000 seats and FieldTurf.
The winner will take on No. 4 Massillon (8-2) or No. 5 Nordonia (8-2) in the second round.
“We’ve got to prepare this week like any other week,” quarterback Bruce Kinsey said. “It’s a one-week season, starting with this week. That’s what Coach (Tom) Lombardo preaches. We’ll watch a lot of film, and it will be fun.”
The Grizzlies (9-1), whose only loss was 24-23 to Highland in Week 5, secured their first home game since 1999 on the strength of a thrilling 34-33 triumph over Nordonia in the regular-season finale.
Wadsworth will face Cleveland Heights, whose only loss was to D-II state-ranked Glenville (32-13) early in the season. The Tigers are led by Kentucky wide receiver recruit Dorian Baker.
A likely second-round date with top-seeded St. Edward (9-1), which hosts Shaker Heights (6-4), awaits.
“We take a lot of pride in playing at home, especially this year with renovating (Art Wright Memorial Stadium),” Grizzlies coach Greg Dennison said. “That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season — to play at home in the playoffs. Our seniors are especially are really excited about that.”
Joining Highland and Wadsworth with a home game are the Pirates (7-3), who lucked out after falling to Keystone 28-6 on Friday.
Black River had just a 25 percent chance to host following the Keystone loss, but secured its second home game in three years thanks to losses by Youngstown Ursuline and Beachwood and second-level help from Western Reserve, Lutheran West, Wellington and Buckeye.
The Pirates will play pass-happy Fairless (7-3), whose coach, Don Wilson, played with Black River coach Al Young on the undefeated 1977 Pirates team that was No. 1 in the Associated Press Class A state poll and is in the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame.
A second-round game with top-seeded Manchester (8-2) or Ursuline (4-5) is on tap.
“Everyone is excited,” coach Al Young said. “Like I said to the kids, ‘I’ll tell you something right now, you’re the first Black River team in history to win your league and host a playoff game.’ That being said, our kids will rally. They’re pretty resilient.”
The 15th-seeded Blue Devils (6-4) will get a rematch at state-ranked Mentor (9-1), which handed Brunswick a 45-3 loss in Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division play.
Heading into Saturday’s play, the Blue Devils were slated to play Hudson, which defeated Brunswick 22-13 early in the year, until the Cardinals picked up enough second-level points from McDowell (Pa.) to jump in the No. 2 seed.
The winner advances to face No. 7 Stow (9-1) or No. 10 Elyria (7-3).
“Obviously, we’re very excited to have an opportunity to play,” Blue Devils coach Luke Beal said. “With our schedule, we’re playing outstanding competition every week. It’s great for us to get in, and I’m pretty proud of our seniors. This is something these kids have worked very hard for.”
“Mentor is very good, but we’re really excited about the chance to go up there and play them this Saturday.”
The suddenly red-hot Bucks (6-4), who won six of their last seven games to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009, avoided undefeated powerhouse Toledo Central Catholic in the first round, but the consolation is a game at second-seeded Clyde, whose lone loss was to 10-0 Sandusky Perkins.
Buckeye was one of only eight schools in the 26-team region to have a winning record. It also received big second-level help from Keystone and Lutheran West on Friday to push into the seventh position.
The winner plays Perkins or Napolean (6-4) in the second round.
“I’m very proud of (my players),” Bucks coach Mark Pinzone said. “They’ve worked hard and didn’t give up. We were going through the bumps in the road, and I’m very happy with the way they’ve responded.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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