High School football: Playoff expansion could spark postseason resurgence for Clark County teams

A group of Shawnee High School defenders tackle Greenon's Trevor Stewart during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
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A group of Shawnee High School defenders tackle Greenon's Trevor Stewart during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

SPRINGFIELD — Beginning this fall, 16 teams in each region will advance to the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs.

Love it or hate it, the playoff expansion could mean big things for Clark County’s football programs.

“The system is the system and that’s what’s in place,” said Greenon coach Josh Wooten. “If we’re given the opportunity, whether it’s eight, 16 or everybody, that’s what you want. You want your season to continue and play for one more week. It is what it is and that’s the system that’s what was put in front of it. If we’re fortunate enough to be one of the 16, we’ll be excited and try to be playing our best football at the end of the season.”

The expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 448. The higher-seeded teams will host first- and second-round playoff games.

In 2019, only two Clark County programs — Springfield and Shawnee — ranked in the top-8 to qualify for the playoffs.

A group of Greenon High School defenders bring down Shawnee's Zane Mercer during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
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A group of Greenon High School defenders bring down Shawnee's Zane Mercer during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

If the expansion occurred two years ago, six of the nine Clark County football programs would’ve qualified for the playoffs — Springfield (D-I, Region 2), Northwestern (D-IV, Region 16), Kenton Ridge (D-IV, Region 16), Shawnee (D-V, Region 20, Greenon (D-V, Region 20) and Southeastern (D-VII, Region 28).

Every team advanced to the playoffs last year as part of the shortened six-game regular season, although some programs opted out of the postseason.

Northeastern has eight playoff appearances in school history, but have yet to win a playoff game. Northeastern hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2003.

“The majority of our kids weren’t born yet,” said Northeastern coach Jake Buchholtz.

While the Jets have their sights set on a playoff appearance, the goal is a postseason victory, he said. Northeastern went 4-6 a year ago and finished with three straight wins, which Buchholtz hopes can lead to a postseason run this fall. Northeastern returns nine of 11 starters from last season.

“Every coach has their view on it and I think one of the best things about football is that not everybody gets invited to the tournament,” he said. “It has some type of lore to it and that’s kind of how I still approach it with our kids. Regardless how many teams make it in, if we’re focused on our goals it’s going to work out the way it was supposed to work out.”

Springfield strong

Springfield has advanced to the D-I state semifinals each of the past two seasons, falling to Cincinnati Elder in 2019 and Cincinnati St. Xavier last fall.

This year, the Wildcats hope to make the trip to Canton for the state finals.

They return the reigning Greater Western Ohio Conference athletes of the year — senior quarterback Te’Sean Smoot and senior safety Delian Bradley.

Last weekend, the Wildcats beat Louisville (Ky.) Trinity High School — the defending 6A Kentucky state champions — 17-0 through three quarters in their first scrimmage.

Springfield opens the season against northeast Ohio powerhouse Cleveland St. Ignatius at 7 p.m. Friday at Springfield High School.

Three-peat?

Greenon is seeking its third straight Ohio Heritage Conference South Division championship.

The Knights return leading rusher Trevor Stewart and leading receiver wideout Clay Hough.

After back-to-back titles, Greenon knows the rest of the OHC South will do whatever it takes to knock them off the throne.

“The difficult part is staying on top,” Wooten said. “You’re not going to sneak up on anybody. In order to be the champion, you’ve got to beat the champion. We know we’re going to get everybody’s best.”

The Knights host Cleves Taylor at 7 p.m. Friday.

Shawnee High School quarterback RJ Griffin drops back to pass during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
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Shawnee High School quarterback RJ Griffin drops back to pass during their scrimmage game on Friday, Aug. 13 in Springfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER

Back again

Shawnee returns a strong nucleus from last season’s squad, which advanced to the regional finals for the first time since 2011.

The Braves return senior offensive lineman Cain Gonzalez, a D-V All-Ohio second team selection last fall. Shawnee junior RJ Griffin will take over at quarterback for Drew Mitch.

Shawnee also returns several key skill players, including junior running back Max Guyer and senior defensive back David Hawk.

Shawnee hosts Valley View at 7 p.m. Friday.

New faces

Northwestern has a new coach in Nick Bandstra, who served as both the defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator over the last three seasons at Fairborn High School.

He takes over for Shane Carter, who went 20-21 in four seasons with the Warriors.

In 2018, Carter led Northwestern to its first conference title since 1967 and its first-ever appearance in the Division IV, Region 16 playoffs.

The Warriors host Stebbins at 7 p.m. Thursday at Taylor Field.

Three coaches return in their second season with their respective programs — Catholic Central’s Ty Myers, Kenton Ridge’s Jon Daniels and Southeastern’s AJ Woods.

WEEK 1 SCHEDULE

All games start at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 19

Stebbins at Northwestern

Friday, Aug. 20

Cleveland St. Ignatius at Springfield

Lancaster Fairfield Christian at Catholic Central

Valley View at Shawnee

Cleves Taylor at Greenon

Bradford at Northeastern

Kenton Ridge at Mechanicsburg

Worthington Christian at Southeastern

Tecumseh at Fairborn

Middletown Madison at Greeneview

Fayetteville at Cedarville

West Jefferson at Urbana

Graham at West Liberty-Salem

Benjamin Logan at Triad

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