By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay and Fremont renew their long-running rivalry when the Trojans and Little Giants square off in the 2017 Three Rivers Athletic Conference opener.
Here’s the rundown.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium
COACHES: Mark Ritzler owns a 63-52 career record in his 12th season as Findlay’s head coach. Chad Long is in his second season at Fremont Ross.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Findlay and Fremont Ross played their first interscholastic football game in 1904, and have met head-to-head every season since 1930. Friday’s clash will be the 95th matchup between two schools. Findlay came out on top last year, 34-14, and has won six of the last nine matchups. In the overall series, though, Ross still owns a considerable 57-34-2 edge.
Traditionally, Findlay/Fremont games have been high-scoring, but rarely one-sided. From 2006 through 2011, for example, the schools played six straight games that were decided by a touchdown or less. Three were decided by three points, another by two.
RIVALRY WEEK II: When it comes to traditional rivalries this week is Rivalry Week II for the Little Giants. Last Friday, Fremont Ross and Sandusky met for 112th time in the storied history of those two schools. In another classic finish, Sandusky scored the winning touchdown on a 20-yard pass with 45 seconds on the clock and edged Ross, 16-15.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Findlay and Fremont Ross entered the 2017 with different blueprints. Hit hard by graduation after a 7-4 playoff year, Findlay had to replace almost all of its starters on defense and half of the offense, including most of the skilled-position players. Fremont Ross, hampered by youth and injuries during a 3-7 season in 2016, welcomed back 19 lettermen, including 10 starters on defense and eight on offense.
Findlay started slow with losses to Hillard Bradley (55-20) and Harrison (29-26), but notched its first win by beating Toledo Start 42-10 last week.
“Getting that first win does a lot for our confidence, especially a group that has as many inexperienced guys as we do,” Ritzler said. “It makes practice a little more peppy, it makes film study more worthwhile, it seems like everybody has a more positive attitude. We’ve got that taste of victory. Now maybe they can trust a little more about what they are doing out on the field and see how it pays off when they do things right.”
Junior quarterback Tanner Rickle threw three touchdowns passes in the win over Start — 26 yards to Anthony Gonzalez, 38 yards to Adam Gutting and 25 yards to Adam Gilbert. Overall, Rickle was 5 of 10 passing for 101 yards, uncharacteristically low numbers for a spread offense team. What made Rickle so effective, though, was a running game that generated 7.7 yards per carry and churned out a season-high rushing 239 yards overall. With junior scatback Willie Breitigam out with an injury, Owen Morse, a 6-foot-1, 204-pound senior, carried 16 times for 163 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown burst to put Findlay up 42-7 late in the third quarter. Rickle added 53 yards rushing, including a 20-yard TD run. Breitigam is expected back in the lineup this week for a Findlay offense that, thanks to excellent blocking by the linemen up front and the receivers on the perimeter, generated 348 total yards.
“We only threw the ball 10 times, completing five of them, but they were for big plays because we were effective on the ground,” Ritzler said. “Up front, we were putting bodies on bodies and getting movement, and I thought our receivers did a great job of blocking down field.”
Ross opened the season with a 28-18 win over Springfield and beat Sylvania Southview 20-6 before falling to Sandusky. Hayden Lehmann, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, triggers a Little Giants’ offense that features a number of game-breaker athletes. Junior Noah Hotz has scored one touchdown on a 72-yard run and has a 58-yard punt return to his credit, senior receiver/defensive back Roger Burling has hooked up with Lehmann for 77- and 14-yard TD completions and returned an interception for a score, and senior tight end Shawn Newsome has a 60-yard catch-and-run TD.
“Their quarterback has a great arm. The kid can really wing it, they have some good-sized kids up front who pass-protect well and they have some nice receivers,” Ritzler said.
“They have three or four kids who can catch it and make a big play out of it. That’s our biggest concern, their big-play capability.”
KEYS TO THE GAME: “You probably get tired of hearing it, but we have to be able to run the ball,” Ritzler said. “Last week, we were able to move the ball between the tackles. When we’re able to do that, it just sets everything else up, from the play action to the roll-out stuff.
“Defensively, we have to get pressure on the quarterback and we have to tackle well out in space. We have to eliminate the big play. If they’re going to score it has to be a long drive. We don’t want them running a lot of short drives on us.”
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