The old adage, “defense wins championships” proved accurate for area teams last weekend who captured regional titles.
Canfield, South Range and Warren John F. Kennedy – all playing in state semifinal games this weekend in the OHSAA football tournament – have achieved success due in large part to the play of their defense.
Canfield has surrendered an average of just 11.4 points per game this year. JFK is surrendering just 10.6 points per game, while South Range has given up a mere 123 points (8.8 ppg) through 14 games.
Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky said it is not a surprise that defensive-oriented teams have enjoyed success during the tournament.
“No doubt, defense does win championships,” Pavlansky said. “If you don’t play great defense this time of the year, things aren’t going to work out for you.”
“You look at who else is left, (Kennedy coach) Dom (Prologo) and (South Range coach) Dan (Yeagley) have always harped on the importance of defense, it’s been the calling card for both of those guys,” Pavlansky added. “Our defense has been outstanding all year long. They make big plays at the right time. A strong and consistent defense will keep you in games.”
Pavlansky noted that in the 1970s the wishbone offense and the triple option “gave defensive coordinators fits until they caught up.” The I-formation and the Wing-T did the same thing. More recently, the spread and the run-pass option resulted in record-breaking offensive numbers. Those numbers have leveled off a bit in the past few seasons.
“Everything is cyclical,” Pavlansky said. “It’s always a matter of something new being created on one side of the ball, and the other side has to play catch-up. The successful teams are usually those who make defensive adjustments and who are fundamentally sound on that side of the ball.”
In the first 50 years of the tournament, a total of 21 schools from the Mahoning Valley combined to appear in 69 state semifinal games.
Overall, area teams are a combined 43-26 in the semifinals.
Trumbull County has enjoyed great success, posting a 15-4 record. Three of those losses were suffered by JFK, but the Eagles have also been victorious in six semifinal games. McDonald (2-1) suffered the other Trumbull County setback.
Warren G. Harding (3-0), Warren Western Reserve (2-0), Girard (1-0) and Brookfield (1-0) all advanced to the state championship game when they played in the semifinals.
Mahoning County schools are a combined 26-22 in the Final Four. Twenty-seven of those 48 appearances were by Mooney (12-5) and Ursuline (6-4).
In Columbiana County, Wellsville and Lisbon both advanced to the state final in their only appearances in the Final Four.
ON THIS DATE
It was 50 years ago this month that the Ohio High School Athletic Association held its first-ever football tournament.
In fact, it was exactly 50 years ago today that Warren Western Reserve captured the first-ever big school state playoff championship.
On Nov. 25, 1972 Warren Western Reserve defeated Cincinnati Princeton 37-6 in the Class AAA state title game, played in front of 15,565 fans at the Akron Rubber bowl.
WWR led Princeton 12-6 at the end of the third quarter, but the Raiders then outscored the Vikings 25-0 in the fourth period to run away with the championship.
Senior running back Mike Spiva rushed for three touchdowns in the final quarter.
“That was an incredible era of football in Warren,” Spiva said. “There was a four-year run where Warren ruled football. It was a magical time. We played in front of 10,000 fans every week. The entire city rallied around our teams. Playing at the Rubber Bowl wasn’t intimidating because we faced that type of atmosphere every week.”
Spiva, who now lives in Georgia, said the championship season was the culmination of a years-long bonding of players.
“Most of the players on that team, we played together since we were twelve-years-old,” Spiva said. “It was always our goal to win a championship. There was a great bond, and in fact that bond still exists today.”
Pat Guliano served as a WWR freshman coach in 1972. He spent the weekends scouting future opponents or possible playoff opponents. Guliano recalled one weekend in which he drove to Columbus to scout Grove City on a Friday night. The next day he was in Toledo for a noon kickoff featuring Toledo Central Catholic. Later that night he was in Cleveland for a Cleveland St. Joe’s game.
“The attention to detail was something else, there was an incredible amount of dedication from the players and coaches,” Guliano said.
Guliano is quick to point out that the success enjoyed by the 1972 Raiders didn’t end on the high school gridiron.
“So many of those players went on to play in college and even the pros,” Guliano said. “Even more impressive, roughly 19 of the 25 seniors earned college degrees. That really was a very special group.”
Ironically, exactly 18 years later – Nov. 25, 1990 – Warren G. Harding defeated Princeton 28-21 to capture the Division I state championship.
THANKFUL FOR PRACTICE
Practicing on Thanksgiving Day is starting to become a tradition for the Warren John F. Kennedy Eagles.
For a third straight year, Kennedy held a Thanksgiving Day morning practice in preparation for an appearance in the state semifinals. On Saturday Kennedy plays Newark Catholic at Red Rider Stadium in Orrville.
“This is a special day, it’s a day and a practice these kids dream about and it’s a Thanksgiving they’ll always remember,” said JFK coach Dom Prologo. “Most coaches and players at this level dream about practicing on Thanksgiving. Our kids know they are blessed to be part of an elite group.”
Numerous Kennedy alumni and former players attended the practice. Prologo said he stressed to his players the importance of enjoying the moment while focusing on the task at hand.
“You want the kids to stay laser-focused at the task at hand, you want them to have blinders on and understand that this is a vital practice, no different than any other Thursday when we’re preparing for a Saturday game,” Prologo said. “But at the same time, this is special. They earned the right to step back and enjoy the moment.”
Thursday marked Prologo’s fifth Thanksgiving Day practice. He was part of a Thanksgiving Day workout in 2005 when he was an assistant coach at Canfield. He was also on the JFK staff in 2016 when the Eagles won a state title.
“My wife has gotten used to adjusting our Thanksgiving dinner time around practice,” Prologo said. “Seriously though, this is an honor. We don’t take these moments for granted.”
MAHONING VALLEY STATE SEMIFINAL APPEARANCES / RECORDS