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Top Games of the Week:

D1 Semi #1: St. Edward (13-1) vs. Hilliard Bradley (13-1) - As expected, St. Edward has been nothing short of dominant in their playoff run to date. R1 was definitely down this year in terms of legitimate state title contenders, but this Ed's team is also just very good. Casey Bullock returned from injury for the second time this year and threw a couple TD passes in a route of Medina. Ed's defense held an explosive Medina offense to 7 points. Hilliard Bradley, an unknown heading into the year, emerged from a very deep R3 and took out Upper Arlington in a double OT affair. Their All-District POY, QB Bradyn Fleharty, accounted for all 5 scores for the Jaguars. He was reportedly injured, but expects to play this week. If he can't go that would be a crushing blow in a game where they are a clear underdog to begin with. He's a dual-threat guy, which has been the Achilles heel of the St. Edward defense. The Eagles also sustained some injuries to key players and we'll see if they are a go this weekend. 

D1 Semi #2: Moeller (10-4) vs. Springfield (9-5) - This is a rematch of last years semi-final that saw Springfield emerge victorious. Both of these teams were among the pre-season favorites but had rough starts to the season that saw them drop in the polls. Moeller had a scare when Jordan Marshall re-aggravated an ankle injury in the Ed's game and was thought to possibly be lost for the season, but he's gutted it out and will look to avenge the loss to Springfield last year. The Crusaders have star power on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats have really been clicking since getting their injured QB back and have no shortage of talent of their own, but I just don't think they are as explosive offensively as they were last year. I look for Moeller to prevail and set up a rematch against Ed's in the finals. 

D2 Semi #1: Hoban (12-1) vs. Avon (14-0) - We may get robbed of a classic in this one as Avon's QB is injured and done for the year. The loss of his dual-threat capabilities was evident in a 28-14 win against Highland last round, a game they probably win by 4 TD's if he plays.  Hoban is stacked on the defensive side of ball and Avon would need all hands on deck to attack them effectively (like Ed's has been able to with Bullock the past two years). Jakorian Caffey is a very talented RB for Avon and their o-line is formidable, but I don't know that he will be enough. 

D2 Semi #2: Massillon (14-0) vs. Anderson (13-1) - The stout Massillon defense versus an explosive Anderson offense is the battle here. The Tigers haven't given up more than a touchdown in 5 weeks while Anderson has scored 40+ in every playoff game. A very good Winton Woods defense held them to just 20 back in week 6, and this Massillon defense is even better. I'll take the Tigers to prevail and look for a great finals matchup with Hoban. 

D3 Semi #1: TCC (14-0) vs. Chardon (11-3) - TCC is here as expected, steamrolling their way through a bunch of overmatched R10 opponents. Chardon pulled off the upset against undefeated Ursuline to claim the R9 title, and did so in convincing fashion. The Hilltoppers will be massive underdogs against a loaded TCC team, but they are not unfamiliar with this stage, having won back-to-back D3 championships in 2020 and 2021. 

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D1: St. Edward (14-1) v. Springfield (10-5):

My pre-season top two found a way to meet in the finals for the third year in a row. Ed's was certainly expected with the bevy of talent that they returned, combined with a down R1. Springfield had a more difficult path, weathering injuries that saw them drop 5 regular season games only to get healthy and go on an impressive playoff run. They can thank the expanded playoff format for that opportunity. Also for the third year in a row, they beat a favored Moeller in the semi's.  Coach Douglass nearly screwed the pooch by not running out the clock on his team's last possession in regular time. Luckily his defense bailed him out in OT with a 4th and goal stand. Moeller lost all-star RB Jordan Marshall to injury again, otherwise you have to imagine he is able to get them across the goal line. Ed's had a bit of an odd game against Hilliard Bradley, dominating yards and time of possession but "only" winning 26-3.  Far too many penalties that killed big gains and poor redzone execution are largely to blame for that. HB was without Mr. Football candidate Brayden Fleharty ay QB, otherwise the game could have been far more interesting.  Likewise, the Eagles were without two of their biggest offensive and defensive playmakers in Kyan Mason and Loghan Thomas. Those two are also questionable heading into this weekend. 

In terms of the matchup this week, it's no secret what St. Edward will look to do. Impose their will up front, pound the football, and eat up the clock. Sophomore RB Brandon White has been on a tear in the playoffs, running for over 200 yards on three occasions. Senior QB Casey Bullock returned to action a few weeks back and will look to be the only St. Edward signal caller to win multiple titles. It looked like he was getting his legs back under him with a few nice first down runs against Bradley, and his mobility will be crucial for Ed's to effectively operate their read-option. The approach to the passing game lately has been "all or nothing," taking the occasional deep shots with little in the way of short to intermediate throws. Bullock's accuracy is hit or miss with these.  That approach will be challenging against a talented Springfield secondary featuring the top cover corner in the state, Buckeye commit Aaron Scott. We'll see if Lombardo has any wrinkles for the offense this time around or sticks with his bread and butter. For Springfield's offense, they have a lot of big play capabilities with RB Jayvin Norman and WR Daylen Bradley.  The QB Upshaw is a pocket guy, but they will also put the electric Scott behind center to run wildcat looks.  You have to defend the entire field when playing these guys. Ed's defense has been lights out all post-season, but this will be the biggest challenge in terms of limiting the big plays. They can likely get by without Mason on offense, but there's a big drop-off in pass rush and edge setting with Thomas out of the lineup. It was the edge duo of Kilbane and Gedeon that wreaked havoc on Springfield last year, so DC Pete Pappas may need to use his LB's to blitz more often than he'd like if Thomas can't go. 

DII: Massillon (15-0) v. Archbishop Hoban (13-1): 

These two teams have been on a collision course the entire year. They've played one common opponent (St. Edward), with Massillon prevailing 15-13 and Hoban losing 14-7. At full strength, those three teams are coin flips for tops in the state and all do it with stifling defense.  Hoban is coming off a thrilling and hard fought victory against Avon, another great DII team that put up an incredible effort despite not having their star QB. Massillon has pretty much running-clocked every opponent since their week 7 victory over St. John's (DC).  The biggest difference for the Tigers this year has been the dynamic play of dual-threat QB DaOne Owens. Ed's had no answer for his running abilities, and Hoban has struggled in recent years defending running QB's as well.  Keeping Owens contained must be priority number one for the Knights. Points will be coming at a premium this game, and if Owens gets cooking, Hoban could be in trouble. Also, Massillon finally has explosive RB Mylen Lenix back in the lineup after missing most of the season with injury. The Tigers have playmakers everywhere that can make you pay.

All that being said, Hoban has had Massillon's number in recent years, beating them soundly in 2022 and 2020. In those games, Hoban won the turnover battle and capitalized on Massillon's mistakes. This is as loaded a Hoban defense as they've had, especially at the LB positions. If any team can put the clamps on Owens, this would be the one. The question for the Knights will be if they can generate enough offense against a very stout Massillon defense. The Tigers have been nothing short of dominant on that side of the ball, and that has continued despite losing star LB Dorian Pringle to a injury a few weeks ago. I don't know if he is able to go this week, but that could be a difference maker as well. The Hoban offense will want to pound the rock using a multitude of different style running backs, but must challenge Massillon through the air to keep them honest. If there is any weakness in Massillon's defense, it would be their secondary. 

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The Massillon - Hoban game should be epic.  Old and new powers meeting for a title.  Should be a tight game.  

For St. Eds, as it has the past two years against Springfield, the difference should be in the trenches.  Springfield is clearly talented, and has been finding ways to win against some really good teams since they have been healthy, but St. Eds O-line and D-line are a different animal.  If Eds can control the line and pound the run at Springfield with success, then I don’t see them losing.  If Bullock is healthy, or at least healthy enough, then his RPO game makes them almost unstoppable when the line is opening holes for the running game.

Cold, wet weather could be a factor, but that might further favor St. Eds and its ability to pound the ball on the ground.

I don’t see a blowout, but as long as they don’t turn the ball over, I think Eds will control the ball and the clock and ground out TD drives to win by a couple scores.  It has worked the past couple years, and I don’t see Springfield being able to stop it now.

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With another season in the books, time to rank my final top four. Final record, pre-season ranking, and final regular season ranking in parenthesis. 

1. Massillon (16-0, #5, #1) - The Tigers did it with defense all year, and the state championship was no different. However, the addition of DaOne Owens is what really put them over the top. Not saying they couldn't have won it all with Slaughter, but Owens dynamic running ability was the catalyst to the Massillon offense all year, especially in their week 5 win over St. Edward. Because of him, the undefeated DII state champion Tigers get the nod as Ohio's best this year. 

2. St. Edward (15-1, #1, #2) - The Eagles went wire-to-wire as the D1 favorites and delivered the school's seventh state championship and third in a row. The lone setback to Massillon was without Casey Bullock at QB and before super sophomore running back Brandon White burst onto the scene. If they played a neutral site matchup with Massillon this weekend would the tables be turned? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think these two teams are as close as it gets as presently composed. 1a & 1b. 

3. Hoban (13-2, #4, #3) - The Knights had a prolific defense this year and nearly snatched a victory in the closing seconds of the state championship as a 4th and goal pass was dropped by a receiver that got loose in the front corner of the endzone. They were doomed all night by unforced errors and inconsistent offense, and that sloppy play ultimately did them in despite being gifted a late opportunity to score when Massillon attempted a fake punt. 

4. TCC (16-0, #6, #4) - The Fighting Irish barely broke a sweat all year, with only one game coming within a single score. As I said all year, we were robbed of an even more exciting DII playoff as they dropped to DIII this year. Because of that, we'll never really know if they would have repeated in DII going up against a great Massillon, Hoban, or Avon team. Can't put them higher for that reason. 

Can't wait for 2024!! Look for the most infamous HSFB team in Ohio to be back and better than ever! 

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