Ohio Cardinal Conference
HOW THEY’LL FARE
(The Daily Record staff’s predicted order of finish)
1 WEST HOLMES (5-5, 3-4 in 2011) — The 10th year for the Ohio Cardinal Conference could prove to be the most balanced yet, and possibly produce a first-time champion in West Holmes. The Knights return seven starters on offense and 10 on defense from a team that handed defending OCC champion Ashland its lone loss a year ago. The Arrows have won four of the last six OCC titles, but coach Scott Valentine gave his nod in the preseason to the Knights based on their veteran returnees.
“West Holmes is the favorite because they have a good quarterback coming back and lots of other experienced players, but with this league it’s the team that’s gonna be ready each night that wins it,” Valentine said.
Leading West Holmes’ bid for its first OCC title is a senior class that features 6-foot-4 QB Gabe Snyder (649 yards passing, nine TDs; 296 yards rushing, 2 TDs); TE-DE Brock Macaulay (6-foot-6, 240, Kent State recruit); RB-DT Garrett Mackey; G-LB Keaton Leppla and RB-DB Grant Hay; along with athletic juniors RB-LB Layne Perone and WR-DB Brady Arnold.
While third-year West Holmes coach Kevin Maltarich is flattered to get the preseason nod, he knows it won’t mean a thing as the season rolls along. In fact, Maltarich was in an early giving mood as he labeled two rivals as the teams to beat.
“The first two teams that come to mind (as favorites) are Mansfield Senior and Ashland,” Maltarich said. “The OCC is just a great league with great athletes. Every team is capable of knocking any team off on any given night. The team that shows up on Friday night ready to compete and ready to play is the team that is going to win.”
Playoff odds: Div. III, Region 11 (IIII out of five).
2 ASHLAND (6-5, 6-1) — After a disastrous 1-4 start a year ago, which included the 35-31 Miracle in Millersburg loss to West Holmes, the Arrows rattled off five straight wins to capture the OCC title outright.
Eleventh-year Ashland coach Scott Valentine, the lone remaining grid boss from the OCC’s inaugural year, has proven year-in, year-out that he can flat out coach with an 81-34 record (9-6 playoffs).
Valentine and his staff will be tested this year as they return just two starters on offense, but do have eight regulars back on defense.
Senior QB Tyson Vogel will take over running the spread offense for Zach Bernhard, who’s now at Ashland University. Vogel had 86 tackles on defense last year.
Among the standouts returning for the Arrows are RB Jake Allton (63-for-433, 8 TDs), and LBs Willie Moore (118 tackles) and Gabe Bradshaw (82 tackles).
Despite some new faces in the lineup, Valentine is optimistic about his team’s chances.
“Our kids are willing to work hard,” he said. “Our league’s been a battle every year, but we’ve been fortunate to come out with key wins.
“We lost some good offensive linemen and we’re gonna find out where we’re at in our scrimmages. We do have some good skilled guys back.”
Playoff odds: Div. II, Region 7 (IIII out of five).
3 MANSFIELD SENIOR (3-7, 2-5) —When the OCC was formed, many people thought the Tygers would roll through it as they were coming off a string of Div. I playoff appearances. Surprisingly, Senior is still looking for its first OCC title but this could be its best team since joining the loop. The Tygers have 10 starters back on defense and most of the offense returning as well, including junior QB Jalen Reese (1,400 yards passing, took over in Week 5), WR Deonte Leadingham (21-for-343 receiving, 4 TDs), RB Andrais Lawrence (87-for-
341, 4 TDs) and WR-DB Chek Washington (team-best 75 tackles).
Div. 1 Winthrop basketball recruit Keon Johnson, a 5-7 dynamo, has rejoined the football program after last playing as a freshman and will create matchup problems at WR.
Coach Chioke Bradley’s team is reportedly working on a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense to take full advantage of his team’s speed.
Playoff odds: Div. II, Region 6 (III out of five).
4 ORRVILLE (8-4, 5-2) — Seventh-year Orrville football coach Doug Davault’s team has had an exceptional run the last three years, going 27-12 including six playoff w
ins. The Riders have sent a plethora of players to the college ranks, including three who are on Big Ten rosters this fall. However, graduation losses have mounted the last two years and Davault has his greenest team yet, with just two starters back on offense and four on defense and they only have 38 players out for the team in grades 10-12.
Teams have learned to never count out the Riders and their tradition, though, and the team has set its goals high as usual.
“These kids expect to win and it’s what they’ve always seen from previous teams,” Davault said. “I think that’s helped push some of our teams even further in the playoffs, because they expect so much of themselves and are willing to put the work in to get to the next level. And I really like our work ethic again this year.”
Orrville has been known for having outstanding skilled players and linebackers and that’s no different this season. Seniors Kyle Lichti (QB), Nick Graber (RB-S) and B.J. Johnson (WR-DB), along with juniors Trevor Summers (TE-LB) and Joel Zook (RB-S, converted from LB) are among the top players to watch. Sophomores Bryce Short (QB), Martavius Dyson (RB-LB) and Kayronn Inman (RB-LB) could be stars in the making. The biggest key may be how well a rebuilt line comes through on both sides of the ball.
Playoff odds: Div. IV, Region 13 (III out of five).
5 WOOSTER (4-6, 2-5) — It’s a year of change at Wooster as Doug Haas takes over as head coach and the Generals return just three starters on offense. Defensively, there are just four regulars back.
Still, there’s lots of optimism as several key veterans, including fourth-year starter Grant Stokes (T-DE) and classmates Kevin Komara (LB), Mason Tomblin (RB-LB), Darrian Owens (WR) and James Preston (WR) lead the way. Senior RB Marcel Anderson is expected to have a big season as well.
Six-foot-5 sophomore QB Cameron Daugherty, who will take over for graduated brother Devin Daugherty, is one of several highly touted newcomers.
“Being new to the OCC, you have to be respectful of Orrville and Ashland and the success that those teams have had over the years,” said Haas, whose team will run a no-huddle, spread offense and 4-3 defense. “However, there is tremendous parity in the conference, where you have to be prepared to play your absolute best every Friday or Saturday night.”
Playoff odds: Div. II, Region 7 (III out of five).
6 MADISON (7-3, 4-3) — The depth of strong teams continues with Madison, which has five starters back on offense and six on defense. The Rams lost several key performers but do return senior RB-DB Kale Huss, who led the team with 119 tackles.
The new Rams QB is senior Alex Smith, the son of former Mansfield Senior coach and BGSU RB LeRoy Smith. Coach Sean Conway’s multiple-formation offense will also feature RB Dalton Fix.
Playoff odds: Div. II, Region 6 (II out of five).
7 CLEAR FORK (4-6, 3-4) — The numbers are lower than the Colts like to see (about 35 players in grades 10-12), but with their tradition and history of power football no one will want to look past coach Dave Carroll’s squad. There are seven starters back on offense and nine on defense from a team that just missed turning in a winning season.
Senior QB Ryan South returns after passing for 1,535 yards and 10 TDs, while RBs Jordan Ridenour and Logan Miller will add experience to the wing-T rushing attack.
Playoff odds: Div. IV, Region 14 (II out of five).
8 LEXINGTON (5-5, 3-4) — Coach B.J. Payne departed for warmer weather and the opportunity to coach in Hilton Head, S.C., and assistant Dan Studer was promoted to lead the Minutemen.
This league is truly eight teams deep as even Lexington — picked for eighth only because some team had to fall there — has seven starters back on both sides of the ball from a .500 team. RBs Brandon Henderson and Andrew Hunt, along with WR Bryant Switzer are playmakers to watch, but there are concerns about overall team depth.
Playoff odds: Div. II, Region 6 (I out of five).
— By AARON DORKSEN, Daily Record Sports Editor