By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay plays its final home game of the 2017 season this week when the Trojans face Lima Senior in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference matchup.
Here’s the rundown.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler is 66-53 in 12 seasons at Findlay. Andre Griffin, son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, is 9-8 in his second season at Lima Senior.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Lima Senior has won four straight, capped by last year’s 28-21 overtime win over the Trojans. The rivalry has had an ironic ebb and flow: Lima Senior won six of the first seven matchups, Findlay won 11 straight from 2002 through 2012 and now Lima Senior has had the upper hand four years in a row. Overall, Findlay leads the series 12-10.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Findlay is 4-3 overall, 3-1 in the TRAC after last week’s 41-24 loss at Toledo St. John’s. The Titans stung the Trojans with three game-changing big plays, going up 7-3 on a 70-yard pass from Brady Lichtenberg to Dallas Gant, scoring on an 80-yard Lichtenberg-to-Dimitrious Mitsopoulos pass one play after Findlay had scored to go up 10-7, and getting a 79-yard TD reception by Gant one play after the Trojans had pulled within 28-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter. St. John’s had 229 of its 440 total yards on those three plays.
Lima Senior is 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the TRAC. Facing a brutal schedule to open league play, the Spartans fell 37-6 to four-time TRAC and three-time state champion Toledo Central Catholic, Ohio’s No. 4-ranked team in Division III, then lost 47-14 to Toledo Whitmer, ranked No. 5 in Division I and currently sitting atop the league standings at 7-0, 4-0.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MERICLES?: Lima Senior broke into the TRAC win column last week against Toledo St. Francis thanks to a stunning game-ending play that went viral. Junior kicker Cole Mericle put the Lima Senior up 25-24 with just three seconds left. Mericle then kicked off, and in a scramble similar to the Cal-Stanford game in 1982, St. Francis began tossing the football from one player to another. After five laterals, the ball ended up in the hands of Zach Bee, a junior receiver who saw a wall and an alley along the right sideline. Bee took off, and appeared headed for a stunning kick-return touchdown. But Mericle came running over, caught Bee inside the 5, and stopped him a yard short of the end zone.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Like Toledo St. John’s last week, Lima Senior has a number of game-breaking players, especially Adrine Mitchell and Keaton Upshaw. Mitchell, a two-year starter at quarterback, has completed 60 of 118 passes for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also Lima Senior’s leading rusher with 413 yards and nine TDs on the ground.
“He’s a big kid (6-3, 190) who can run. The pile is going to fall forward when he makes contact with a linebacker,” Ritzler said. ”
“He’s a lot like the kid from Fremont Ross (Hayden Lehmann) who can extend plays and make things happen. Against Fremont, we struggled keeping (Lehmann) in the pocket and getting him to the ground. The challenge this week is to show we’ve improved where against a very similar quarterback we can stay away from what I like to call backyard plays where he’s going to run around until he makes something happen.”
Upshaw is a 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior tight end who has committed to play for Kentucky. He’s hauled in 26 passes for 339 yards through seven games. Jaleel Long and Boppi White are Lima Seniors other top receivers. Running back Xavier Nichols has broken off some big plays as well.
“We have to keep things in front of us and we have to tackle well in space,” Ritzler said. “(Lima Senior) is going to complete some things. We just have to make sure we keep it in front of us. Last week against St. John’s, things were completed behind us, and we didn’t have the speed to get them to the ground.”
Offensively, Ritzler feels the Trojans need to reestablish a running attack that has dropped off recently. Findlay averaged 192 yards rushing in its first five games, but just 130 the last two.
“The biggest thing for us, and it’s the same thing, is we have to be able to run between the tackles,” Ritzler said. “We have to come together as a unit — the receivers, the linemen, the quarterback — all pulling together at the right time and then hitting the hole. As an entire group, we have to run the ball better between the tackles because that ends up showing up in the passing game as well.”
FOND FAREWELLS: Twenty-six seniors will step onto the Donnell Stadium field for the final time in their careers Friday night. Ritzler, who has been through that experience as both player and coach, wants it to be a memorable night for every one of them.
“We started talking Monday about how this will be a week of lasts — the last time they eat a pregame meal at Donnell Stadium, the last time running through the helmet, the last time being with family and friends on the Donnell Stadium field after a game …” Ritzler said.
“It’s the last home game for our seniors. That’s a big one for our kids. It may be kind of hard for them to realize the significance of it now. It’s something they will never forget, so we want to make it something worth remembering.”
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By DAVE HANNEMAN