Preparations for the Division VII, Region 25 title game are winding down.
As Saturday's game between Shadyside and Glouster Trimble draws closer, a big question is starting to resonate.
What is going to give?
T-L?File Photo/SETH STASKEY
SHADYSIDE senior lineman Zach Meadows is congratulated as he returns to the sidelines after helping to lead a scoring drive during a game at Bellaire. Meadows was named Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week.
It's the Tigers running game that averages better than 330 yards a game against a Tomcats defense, which has yielded more than 95 rushing yards in a game only once this season.
On the other side of the coin, it's Trimble's diversified, ball-control offense against Shadyside's stingy and hard-hitting defense.
It's kind of like the irresistible force against the immovable object as the top two seeds vie at Zanesville's Sulsberger Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. with the survivor moving on to the Division VIII state tournament.
"We're excited and we realize what kind of challenge is ahead of us," said Shadyside head coach Mark Holenka, who has his Tigers in the regional final for the third time under his watch. "It's been a good season, but as we've said before, someone's going to be in tears Saturday night and of the eight teams left, seven are going to be crying before the year's over, so we're hoping it's not us this year."
For Shadyside, it's the 15th appearance in the tournament overall and the Tigers are seeking their fifth regional championship, but first since advancing to the state title game in 2010.
Trimble, meanwhile, is in its 10th appearance in the tournament and are in the regional final for the second straight season. The Tomcats, like the Tigers, are 12-0 for the first time in school history. Last season, their season came to an end at this level at the hands of eventual state runnerup Newark Catholic.
"We're excited and hoping to keep it going," said Trimble head coach Phil Faires. "We're well aware of Shadyside's tradition and past playoff success."
The Tigers and Tomcats have met twice in their history at Fleming Field with Shadyside winning both meetings. They squared off in the regular season in 2007 (58-27) and then again in the first round of the playoffs of 2010 (36-20).
"We wanted to see what football was like in that part of the state," Faires said. "We found out and they sent us home."
While Shadyside came into the season thinking it might be a season away from doing some really special things, Faires and Trimble had a feeling this could be one of the most memorable seasons in their school's history.
"Last year, we didn't really know what we had, but it was the first year, of my 20, that I'd ever had juniors as captains," Faires said. "And looking back, that leadership carried over to the offseason, the summer and into camp."
Holenka has been quietly aware and following Trimble's season from afar, realizing that this game could eventually come to fruition.
"I knew Trimble was legit because of how well they played Newark Catholic in the regional final last year and then Newark Catholic came up just short of knocking off Marion Local," Holenka said.
The Tigers have reached 12-0 by virtue of convincing tournament wins against Lancaster Fairfield Christian and Caldwell, 30-6, last week at New Philadelphia.
However, the challenge that lies ahead is bigger than any of the previous 12, according to Holenka.
"They're going to be the best team we will have faced all season, and at this point of the season, they should be," Holenka said. "They're actually the best team I've seen on film, including the opponents of the teams we've played."
Though last week's score was decisive, Holenka was none too pleased with how his team posted the result and thinks playing an unfamiliar opponent could be just what the Tigers need to re-focus.
"We're going to have to play intense, passionate football to climb the next rung on the ladder," Holenka said. "We can't be blase like we were last week. It's going to take a focused, complete team effort if we want to be successful this week."
For Trimble, this is its second straight week to be making the trip from suburban Athens to Zanesville. It knocked off Steubenville Central, 27-22, last week.
Shadyside hasn't played a tournament game at Sulsberger since 2009, which was Holenka's first season at the helm. The Tigers were eliminated by Grove City Christian that season.
Regardless if the game was played on the interstate, both teams are bringing a highly talented collection of players with them.
The numbers surrounding Trimble's defense are astonishing.
All told, the Tomcats have allowed just 55 points for the season. Last week's 22 was a season high and first time all season a team has scored more than one touchdown against the first-team defense.
They've pitched eight shutouts and trailed only twice this season. Of those shutouts, four in a row came week three to six.
"The shutout streak was a way we kept the kids focused on teams where we kind of knew we were better than the other team," Faires said. "We don't go into games looking for shutouts, but it really helped to keep our defensive mindset on the task at hand."
This week's task at hand is a ground-oriented attack that's accumulated 4,038 yards and scored 58 touchdowns on the ground.
"This is obviously a completely different approach than we saw with Steubenville Central," Faires said. "Shadyside is huge, which is a concern of mine. On top of that, they have three great runners and their quarterback (Austin Dorris) is as good as we've seen."
Saying the Tigers' three-headed backfield monster is balanced isn't doing Michael Kernik's offense enough justice.
Dorris leads the way with 1,248 yards and 19 touchdowns on 129 rushes. Fullback Chris Littell and junior tailback Eric Howell have gained 1,153 yards each. Howell holds the edge in touchdowns, 20-14.
Though it's different schematically, Faires compared Shadyside's use of different people to Trimble's week two opponent Wahama. The White Falcons, who are the defending small-school state champs in West Virginia and visit Madonna this weekend, employ a Wing-T.
"They had good runners, but not like this," Faires said. "I would say Shadyside's offense is more like ours because the quarterback is the primary runner."
Shadyside's backs gain much of the attention, and rightfully so, but its offensive line of Zach Meadows, Hunter Hammond, Colton Campbell, Jacob Spencer and Cory Banco make the system work as they've been up to the task each week.
"It helps they have good backs, but an ordinary runner would be able to gain yards behind that line," Faires said. "They're big, but they're also athletic and move well. It's certainly going to be a challenge for us. We won't be able to stay in one defense and let them get a read."
The Tigers haven't shown the ability to throw the ball with much consistency, but they've not needed to.
Dorris has completed 39-of-80 passes for 632 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Even if we throw incompletitions, we have to be able to throw the ball some," Holenka stressed. "We must do something to make them realize there's a potential of the pass. They're capable of shutting the run down, they've proven that week in and week out."
The Trimble defense is led by senior Jacob Koons (6-2, 200) at linebacker. He's been named Southeast District Player of the Year twice. Sophomore Jacob Stevens (5-10, 220) is a talented defensive lineman and Faires also pointed out junior Terry Simerly (5-4, 145) as a player with a "motor that never stops." The defense is expected to get an additional spark with senior safety Jacob Kish returning to the lineup after missing both playoff games with injury.
"They show a lot of different looks and they're really quick," Holenka said. "Their speed and quickness enables them to play a lot of different schemes because they can cover a lot of ground so quickly."
While the Tomcats defense draws much of the attention, Holenka is equally impressed with the offensive unit that his defense is enlisted at slowing down.
"They're similar to us in how they control the game with their offense," Holenka said. "Their defense is really good, mainly because they're not on it a lot. They probably average 70 offensive plays and it's not that always play with tempo, they just control the game."
The Trimble offense is highly balanced with senior quarterback Konner Standley (5-10, 180) leading the charge.
"The quarterback is the real deal," Holenka said. "He's really good player, who is capable of tucking and running. Plus, he's really accurate as a passer."
Standley has completed 130-of-196 passes for 2,049 yards and 28 touchdowns. As a runner, he's gained 754 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 120 carries.
"We have our best runner at quarterback, so we're able to call a lot of things with run-pass option," Faires said. "We've got good receivers, too. They're not real big or even real fast, but they're good."
Junior Austin Downs (6-0, 170) is the Tomcats' leading receiver. He's hauled in 70 passes for 1,232 yards and 17 touchdowns. He owns the school record in all three categories.
Sophomore Justice Jenkins (6-1, 180) is the team's other top runner. He's carried 71 times for 735 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Koons is a weapon as a runner and receiver. He's gained 372 yards rushing and has 319 receiving with 14 total touchdowns.
"Their pass attack is quick hitting," Holenka said. "They get you to bite, bite, bite on the run and then it's play-action pass. They get what they can get, get back to the line and do it again. Plus, they run from a lot of different formations and they use trickery."
The Tigers defense is led by Meadows, who was named Eastern District Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week. He's joined inside by Banco.
Howell and Scott Hammond are forces at the defensive end positions.
Matt Krupa returned to the lineup last week after missing the first-round game with an injury. He's had an impressive campaign at linebacker and is one of the Tigers' leading tacklers. He's joined Littell and Jake Duvall, who is one of the Tigers' top receivers.
The secondary features Dorris, Luke Nardo, Robert Newhart and Logan Price.
"Like on offense, it starts with their defensive line," Faires said of the Tigers defense. "They play assignment football and their guys take up a lot of space, so their other guys can make plays. We have to be able to stop their defensive penetration, so we'll need to mix it up well."
Shadyside's kicking game rests with sophomore Mason Campbell. Frosh Shadow Gibson handles the punting duties.
At the state level, the winner will face the survivor of Region 23, which pits Berlin Center Western Reserve against Norwalk St. Paul. The site for the state semifinal won't be set until Sunday.