High School Football: Shawnee seeking to end CBC Kenton Trail title drought

SPRINGFIELD — With one season remaining in the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division, the Shawnee High School football team will look to accomplish something it hasn’t done since the 2011 season: bring home a division championship.

Shawnee will compete one more season in the Kenton Trail Division before moving to the Mad River Division in 2023. The Braves are seeking their first division title since winning back-to-back championships in 2010 and 2011. They’ve finished in second place six times since winning those titles, most recently in 2019.

“We’ve been right there,” said Braves coach Rick Meeks. “We’d love to win it. Our goal is to win it this year and next year go out and win the (Mad River).”

The Braves return a strong nucleus of skill players on both sides of the ball, including senior quarterback R.J. Griffin, senior wide receiver Zion Crowe and senior running back Max Guyer.

The Braves are also seeking their fifth consecutive playoff appearance this fall. Shawnee qualified for the D-V, Region 20 playoffs last fall, beating Purcell Marian 21-17 on a last-second drive to earn a first round comeback victory. The Braves fell to Cincinnati Taft 21-7 in the quarterfinals.

Shawnee will move up to D-IV, Region 16 this season.

“It’s good for them to get a taste of that (last year),” Meeks said. “Hopefully we’ll be ready for that type of competition.”

Shawnee will face a tough schedule this season as six of their 10 opponents qualified for the playoffs last fall. They open at Valley View at 7 p.m. Friday night. Last season, the Spartans beat the Braves 25-7 in Week 1 in Springfield.

“We’re going to have to have some good luck go our way,” Meeks said. “We’ve got to take it a week at a time and see where we are at the end of the year.”

Kenton Ridge

The Cougars went 3-7 last season, but lost four games by a total of 13 points. In his third season at the helm, Kenton Ridge coach Jon Daniels and his squad are looking to find ways to turn those losses into victories.

“We played in a lot of tough ball games and ended up being on the wrong end of the stick on a lot of them,” Daniels said. “It’s been a huge point of emphasis this offseason about what are the plays that made a difference in those games. A lot of it comes down to execution.”

The Cougars have just eight seniors, but return several key skill players, including senior running back Gavin Higgins, junior running back Heath Jones and senior quarterback Brady King. Defensively, Cougars sophomores Bryce Smith and Braden Smith will lead the way at middle linebacker, Daniels said.

“We’re very young, but our guys have bought into an underdog mentality and they’ve really worked their tails off in the offseason,” Daniels said. “This group has taken coaching maybe more than any group I’ve had as a head coach. They constantly want to get feedback, fix stuff and grow.”

The Cougars open the season against Mechanicsburg. The Indians beat the Cougars 35-28 last season in Mechanicsburg.

“This group is hungry, they’re young and they understand that a lot of people may not look at them as a group to watch this year and they’ve got a chip on their shoulder,” Daniels said.

Tecumseh

The Arrows return several key players from last year’s squad that went 4-6 last season. Tecumseh started the season 3-2, but finished the season 1-4, including close losses to Jonathan Alder and Bellefontaine.

With so much experience back this fall, the Arrows have spent more time focusing on small details that could help them get over the hump, said Tecumseh coach Chris Cory.

“We’re trying to clean up some things that we can control, cutting down on penalties and not turning the ball over — little things like that that can make a huge difference,” he said.

They return several skill players including senior running backs Lucas Berner, Jackson Berner and Josiah Botello, senior quarterback Nate Cory and junior running back Connor Bledsoe.

The Arrows will also play a tough schedule that includes non-conference games against Carroll and Bellbrook. Tecumseh opens the season at home against Fairborn at 7 p.m. Friday.

“Every week it’s a gauntlet,” Cory said. “You’ve got to stay healthy and hope you can put your 22 best players out there.”

Mad River Division

Northwestern

After going 0-10 in Nick Bandstra’s first season, the young Warriors are hoping to compete in the tough CBC Mad River Division.

Northwestern graduated 13 seniors from last year’s squad. Of their 40 players, more than half are freshmen and sophomores, Bandstra said. They’ve also got more than 45 players in their middle school program, he said.

“Our trajectory is heading the right way,” Bandstra said.

Warriors junior Jacob Shaffer returns at quarterback, while senior Brock Mansfield returns to the squad after playing his first two seasons. The Warriors will also get a boost from freshman wide receiver Ried Smith and freshman offensive lineman Preston Allen, Bandstra said.

The Warriors goal is to get better each week, he said. They open the season at home against Southeastern at 7 p.m. Friday night.

“We have to focus on getting better,” Bandstra said. “I’m not worried about the noise around us. Our mottos this year are “Effort over Talent” and “Play for 11.” We want to play for the 11 on the field. We’re going to have growing pains with how young we are in certain spots.”

AT A GLANCE

Kenton Ridge

Coach: Jon Daniels, third season.

Conference: Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division.

OHSAA designation: Division IV, Region 16.

Playoff history: Four appearances, last qualified in 2015.

2021 record: 3-7, 0-5 CBC Kenton Trail.

Northwestern

Coach: Nick Bandstra, second season.

Conference: Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division.

OHSAA designation: Division V, Region 20.

Playoff history: Two appearances, last qualified in 2018.

2021 record: 0-10, 0-5 CBC Mad River.

Shawnee

Coach: Rick Meeks, 20th season.

Conference: Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division.

OHSAA designation: Division IV, Region 16

Playoff history: 11 appearances, last qualified in 2021.

2021 record: 7-5, 3-2 CBC Kenton Trail.

Tecumseh

Coach: Chris Cory, seventh season.

Conference: Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division.

OHSAA designation: Division III, Region 12.

Playoff history: 10 appearances, last qualified in 2014.

2021 record: 4-6, 1-4 CBC Kenton Trail.

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