State-ranked Centerville, Springfield to face off in GWOC showdown

Springfield players react after recovering a fumble against Saint Ignatius on Friday Aug. 20, 2021, at Springfield High School. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Springfield players react after recovering a fumble against Saint Ignatius on Friday Aug. 20, 2021, at Springfield High School. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Wildcats are ranked No. 3 in the state, Elks are ranked No. 9

Big games are part of the Greater Western Ohio Conference every week. But this week is different. To date, Centerville at Springfield on Friday night is the game of the year.

Springfield (6-0, 4-0 GWOC) is ranked No. 3 in Division I in the Associated Press state poll. Centerville (6-1, 4-0) is ranked No. 9. In the Region 2 playoff race, Springfield is second and Centerville is third. And the winner will be two weeks away from possibly winning the coveted conference title.

“It’s going to be an eye-opening experience,” said Centerville coach Brent Ullery. “We’re either going to find out how good we are or we’re going to find out the flaws we have.”

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Springfield coach Maurice Douglass said, “It’s a big game every week in the GWOC, but this week’s opponent is a little more stout. They’ve got a good solid team. They’re pretty balanced right now.”

The matchups have put a premium on game-planning. A couple big plays, a couple breakdowns could make all the difference.

As good as the two offenses are, Springfield’s defense stands out. The Wildcats have shut out three straight opponents – Beavercreek, Fairmont, Springboro – and haven’t allowed a point in 14 quarters.

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Douglass said defensive coordinator C.L. Smoot has made the most of one of the fastest defenses since they came to Springfield together.

“He does a great job of us knowing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing,” Douglass said. “The great thing about these guys is that they trust one another, which has allowed them all to play faster. They’re coached well.”

Centerville players run onto the field before a game against Gahanna Lincoln on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Gahanna. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Centerville players run onto the field before a game against Gahanna Lincoln on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, at Gahanna. David Jablonski/Staff

Ullery’s offense has scored 30 or more points the past four weeks, but he and his staff understand that what they see on film is different.

“Their defensive line is unreal, and I’d probably put them up with any defensive line in the state,” Centerville coach Brent Ullery said. “They’ve got a freshman starting that’s very good, but the other two guys are just monsters.”

The monsters are seniors Antwan January and Jokell Brown. The freshman is Jackson Heims. But it doesn’t stop there. Javian Norman leads the linebackers and safety Delian Bradley leads the secondary.

“Behind them they play man-to-man with these safeties and corners that are really good,” Ullery said. “But I think the most dangerous part of their defense is their linebackers. They are very fast and hit very hard.”

Speed. That’s something Douglass sees more of in the Elks’ defense this year.

“They’ve got kids who run track and are multisport athletes who happen to be really good football players and well-coached,” Douglass said. “That’s the difference.”

Both defenses must contend with diverse offenses. Senior quarterback Te’Sean Smoot has carried the Wildcats as a runner and a passer. Three of his four top receivers missed several games, and Dominic Turner is still out. But junior Anthony Brown, a top 10 player in Ohio who is committed to Minnesota, has caught nine passes since returning two games ago.

Smoot’s numbers: team-leading 357 rushing yards and eight touchdowns to go with a 62% completion rate, 988 yards and seven touchdowns. His only constant receiver has been Shawn Thigpen with 23 catches and three touchdowns.

If Smoot doesn’t repeat as the GWOC Offensive Player of the Year, it will be because of Centerville senior quarterback Chase Harrison, who has committed to Marshall. Harrison leads the league with 1,565 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes and a 62.7 completion percentage. At midseason Ullery said Harrison had just played his two best games.

“I think he’s playing better,” Ullery said. “He is firing on all cylinders and he’s really hungry for competition.”

Douglass said the biggest difference he sees in Centerville’s resurgent season is overall speed. Ullery agrees, but he says experience is the biggest factor.

“They ‘ve seen the ups and downs, the big wins, the big losses, they’ve seen the overtimes, they’ve seen heartbreak and they’ve seen preparation,” Ullery said. “I think we are as a team a hair faster than we have been in the past. And I think it’s the experience that helps us play at a higher rate.”

Springfield is experienced as well. Most of the starter’s from last year’s state semifinalists are back. That made the Wildcats the favorite to win the GWOC and put them in the top four of the state poll each week.

“They’re a really good team and I think we’re a really good opponent for them,” Ullery said. “But they deserve all the respect in the world because they’ve done nothing but earn it.”