Shadyside seeks 12-0

Shadyside has been here before.

Actually, it’s made getting to the second round and beyond in the Ohio playoffs a habit.

Mark Holenka and his undefeated Tigers aren’t looking to kick that habit anytime soon either.

For the first time in its illustrious playoff history, Shadyside will meet fellow OVAC member Caldwell in the postseason and that comes this evening in New Philadelphia at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7.

The survivor of the all-OVAC encounter will advance to the Region 21 championship game, which will be played on Nov. 23 at a site to be determined and announced on Sunday by the OHSAA.

On the other half of the bracket sits a meeting of the top seed Glouster Trimble and fourth-seeded Steubenville Central. That game is being played in Zanesville.

Both head coaches are highly fond of the venue in New Philadelphia, but Holenka was a bit surprised the game was sent to Tuscarawas County.

“I love the stadium and atmosphere it creates and going further away (from home) makes it feel like a bigger achievement of advancing,” Holenka said. “But, it’s kind of a letdown for our fans and Ohio Valley fans who don’t feel like driving 90 minutes when we could have driven a half hour or less. We as players and coaches get to go regardless, but our fans are the ones who have to suffer to an extent.”

Shadyside was eliminated at New Philadelphia in 2011 by Berlin Center Western Reserve. That was its first loss at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium.

As for Caldwell head coach Josh Perkins, he would have been willing to play the game on the interstate if need be.

“It’s a great facility and there’s a lot of tradition in New Philadelphia and at that stadium,” Perkins admitted. “We’ve played well on the road all season, so (the OHSAA) could have sent us wherever they wanted. As long as we’re playing, it’s fine by us.”

While many expected Shadyside to pass its first post-season test with relative ease, Caldwell went on the road to Malvern and posted the school’s first playoff victory.

“It’s really hard to understand the feeling unless you were a Caldwell Redskin,” Perkins said. “We’ve played football for 110 years and to get that (playoff) monkey off our backs is just an incredible feeling. We’re glad it’s finally come to an end and we can put the talk about never winning a playoff game to rest.”

The Redskins are actually in their seventh appearance in the postseason. Their last tournament game came in 2009.

Many thought the Redskins might have been a year away from enjoying a high level of success since they’re such an under-class dominated squad. However, the Redskins players decided to speed up the process.

“Our kids have just battled and continued to improve,” Perkins said. “We were 2-8 last season, but they put a ton of time in the off-season and the effort during the summer and into the season has been exceptional. This is great for the community and these kids are really deserving of the success they’re having.”

Holenka has certainly noticed the steady progress.

“Caldwell’s a young, scary team,” Holenka said. “I am glad we’re playing them in week 12 and not in week 13 or beyond because they’re continually getting better since they’re still so young.”

The Redskins’ dramatic 28-21 victory against the Hornets may have surprised many, but not Perkins.

“There’s no quit in these guys,” Perkins admitted. “We know teams are going to make big plays and score. I’ve never seen a team play a perfect game, and our guys know to just let stuff go. We did that at Malvern. They made some plays, as we knew they would, but we shook it off and went back at it.”

The victory certainly caught Holenka’s attention.

“That was a really nice win for them,” Holenka said. “That has to be a big boost to their confidence level. They’ve really been doing things better and better as the season’s gone along and that’s a credit to their kids and coaches.”

All told, the Redskins are 9-2. They fell, 7-0, in week one to Newcomerstown and then in week four, 48-21, to Monroe Central.

Shadyside and Caldwell have four common opponents. Along with the Seminoles, both teams lined up against Bridgeport, Barnesville and Shenandoah.

Holenka has spent much of the week stressing to his players not to get caught up in comparing scores and the like.

“That’s always a concern regardless if you’re in the regular or postseason,” Holenka said. “If you do it in the regular season, you’ve got another chance, but we do it this week, then our seniors could be cleaning out their locker for the last time. There are no second chances at this point and if you go into a game over confident or looking ahead, it will bite you.”

The Redskins certainly enjoyed their win last week, but once Monday rolled around, all focus went strictly to the Tigers.

“We got back to work quickly because we’re not ready for (the season) to end,” Perkins said. “These guys just love being around each other and they want to continue this for as long as possible. All of our focus is on Shadyside.”

While the Redskins were rallying past the Hornets, Shadyside jumped on Fairfield Christian and went on to post a 40-14 victory, which is the school’s 26th playoff victory.

“I was impressed with how we took the game to (Fairfield Christian) and took the starch out of them early,” Holenka said. “When you’re favored, or expected to win, you need to play like that because you could end up in a dog fight.”

The Tigers have been to the second round of the tournament in all but one of their appearances in the playoffs, but this is the first time they’ve reached this level at 11-0. The school’s only had three 10-0 seasons.

“It took us two tries to get there, so that is what it is,” Holenka said. “It’s another game and another chapter inside the book we’re trying to get through. Our kids wanted to come back and make amends for what happened in 2012.”

The Tigers’ success this season and since the turn of the century is something that Perkins and the Redskins have certainly noted.

“Shadyside has a great football tradition,” Perkins said. “This is another great Shadyside football team that’s extremely well coached and has a lot of great players. We realize when you get to this point in the season, every team left is good and there are no gimmes or byes. Our kids are excited for the challenge and realize they have a chance to play a team that is a legitimate state-title contender.”

Both teams like to run the football, but they go about in slightly different ways.

The Redskins employ a spread, which Holenka compared to St. Clairsville because of how they get to the line and wait for the coaches to signal in the play.

“They show no huddle and they’ve shown some tempo trying to speed up the game, but that usually doesn’t bother us because we don’t always need a huddle with so many calls being pre-determined,” Holenka said.

Shadyside, meanwhile, has gained 3,710 yards on 475 rushes and scored 57 touchdowns with its three-headed backfield beast running behind its talented and physical offensive line.

“It’s Shadyside football … enough said,” Perkins offered. “I don’t expect anything less from them than being really good. They’re definitely a lot different looking (in terms of their approach) than when I was an assistant coach and we played them. There’s no hiding what they are and that’s a quality team.”

The Redskins’ offense is led by left-handed quarterback Tanner Clark, who is a threat both his legs and arm.

He’s ran for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s completed 68-of-122 passes for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has been picked off nine times.

Last week, against the Hornets, he passed for two touchdowns and ran for one.

“Tanner has come a long way,” Perkins said. “I don’t know if he thought he’d be a quarterback, but he bought into the coaching and he’s done a great job.”

The chief option in the Redskins backfield is sophomore Bricker Lori. He’s gained 1,309 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on 146 rushes.

“We put Lori in the single wing last year due to injuries and he did well, but he had to come back this year and learn how to be a running back again,” Perkins said. “He has deceiving speed and he’s one of the strongest kids I’ve been around.”

When the Redskins go to the air, Tanner Baker has been the top target. He has caught 38 balls for 566 yards ad seven touchdowns. John Carpenter, who caught a touchdown last week, has made 14 receptions for 319 yards and four touchdowns.

“Caldwell does what it does really well,” Holenka said. “(Lori) is a really nice player. They’re not exceptionally big, but you can’t always tell about size from the tape. Their running game is clicking and if you miss a tackle or two, they’re certainly fast enough to take the distance.”

The Tigers’ defense has been staunch.

All-Ohio candidate Zach Meadows leads the way at defensive tackle. He’s complemented well by ends Scott Hammond and Eric Howell. Both ends have been wrecking crews against opposing backfields. Cory Banco has also been impressive along the defensive front.

The linebacking corp for the Tigers consists of Chris Littell, Jake Duvall and Matt Krupa, who is one of the team’s top tacklers. In the secondary, Austin Dorris, Logan Price, Luke Nardo and Robert Newhart patrol.

“Shadyside’s got a good defense and really no weakness,” Perkins said. “I am really impressed with their ends and how physical and aggressively they play.”

Shadyside’s aforementioned backfield monster, which consists of Dorris at quarterback, Howell at running back and Littell at fullback, has combined to gain an astounding 3,216 yards and scored 52 touchdowns.

It’s the first time in school history that the Tigers have had a trio of rushers surpass the 1,000-yard mark. Dorris has gone over the barrier in the regular season, while Littell and Howell joined into the mix last week.

“All three of those guys are great backs,” Perkins said. “Dorris reminds me a lot of the quarterback from Monroe Central (Curtis Nixon), but he’s a little bit bigger. We’ve seen all kinds of talented runners at quarterbacks. They’re probably not as big as Dorris, but they might be a little quicker and shiftier. We just have to be aware of them as best we can. There’s going to be a ton of talent on the field, so it’ll be fun to be a part of and fun for the fans to watch.”

Dorris, who is drawing Division I interest as a tight end and holds an offer from Ohio University, has ran for 1,142 yards and 18 touchdowns.

If there’s been one area where the Tigers have had a question mark it’s in the passing game. But, they’ve done enough to keep teams honest and make them at least respect their ability to throw.

Dorris has completed 37-of-75 passes for 625 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Usually within the course of a 10 or 12 play drive, you have a penalty or a negative play that puts you behind the chains, but we’ve been able to avoid those,” Holenka said. “The running game has been good to us because it’s been time consuming and it’s also been explosive for us since we’ve been able to break some long runs.”

Littell, who missed the Shenandoah game in week four, has ran for 1,069 yards and 14 touchdowns. Howell has ran for 1,005 and a team-high 20 touchdowns.

“None of the three (backs) goes down easily,” Holenka said. “You’ve got to tackle them and they all have the ability to make yards after contact. We don’t go into games thinking about who is going to get the ball more and we don’t look at stats. We just play the game.”

The Tigers offensive line of Meadows, Hunter Hammond, Jacob Spencer, Colton Campbell and Banco has played well all season.

Duvall, Hammond and Littell are the top Tiger wide receivers. None has more than 19 catches.

The Caldwell defense is led by senior Kameron Rayner, who has more than 150 tackles from his defensive line spot. Austin Schockling has 111 stops and 8.5 sacks. Lori is an impressive player at linebacker along with senior Andrew Minosky.

“Caldwell is different (defensively) because it can adjust to whatever it faces,” Holenka said. “Some times they show a 4-3 look and other times they show a 50 look. We’ve seen them on film just change at the line of scrimmage. Most teams have gone to a heavier front against us, so we’re getting used to blocking against that. We’ll need to be ready again.”

Shadyside’s kicking game rests with sophomore Mason Campbell handling the placements. Freshman Shadow Gibson is the Tigers punter.

Holenka raved about the work done by his coaching staff this season, which endured some turnover and is fairly young.

“The younger guys we have are football junkies and it’s exciting and good for our program to have those kinds of guys coming up the ranks,” Holenka said. “Plus, they’ve grown up (as coaches) in the last year or two and were really ready for bigger roles.”

Michael Kernik coordinates the offense and calls the plays. Also on the offensive side of the ball are Chase Grinch and Jeff Campbell.

Holenka spearheads the defensive side of the ball. Veteran assistant John Grinch and B.A. Holloway work with him on that side.

“All of our coaches have done a great job of enabling the kids to understand and believe in the schemes,” Holenka said. “You can go 10-0 as a wishbone team or 10-0 as a spread team as long as you believe in what you’re doing. Real problems begin when you don’t believe in what you’re doing. The coaches believe in it and the kids believe in the coaches.”