By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay plays its home opener on Friday when the Trojans host Upper Arlington on senior night.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler has posted a 66-57 record in his 12-plus seasons at Findlay High. Joel Cutler, in his fifth season as Upper Arlington’s head coach, owns a 26-17 record at the school.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Friday’s matchup will be the tenth meeting between the two schools, who met every year in a home-and-home series from 2001 through the 2009 season. Findlay won the last game 24-7, but Upper Arlington has a 5-4 edge in the overall series.
Upper Arlington, Ohio’s Division I state champ in 2000, was 4-6 last season. It was the school’s first losing record since 2004 and only the second since 1963. The Golden Bears actually went 5-5, but had to forfeit a 24-19 win over Central Crossing because of an ineligible player.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Both teams are coming off tough opening night losses. Hilliard Bradley scored the tying touchdown with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter and beat Findlay 34-28 in overtime last Friday. Upper Arlington had a late drive halted by an interception and fell 17-14 to Reynoldsburg in its season opener.
BREAKDOWN: Findlay overcame a 7-0 deficit against Hilliard Bradley and went up 28-21 when, after Ryan Sweat recovered a fumble at the 1-yard line, quarterback Tanner Rickle plunged over for his fourth touchdown of the game. In the final six minutes, though, Hilliard Bradley drove 68 yards in 16 plays to tie it. The Jaguars completed a 30-yard pass on third-and-15 from their own 27 and converted three fourth-down situations, the last when Jack Richards ran 3 yards into the end zone with 22 seconds left in regulation.
“When we look back at it, we needed one more play,” Ritzler said. “We had some chances during that fourth-quarter drive to get them off the field and couldn’t do it. That’s what you have to do against good teams, you have to find a way to get over the hump.
“Coach (Todd) Armstrong and I talk about being the Jimmy Chitwood guy, the guy in the movie Hoosiers who says he wants the ball at the end of the game. You can’t wait for somebody else to take the initiative. We need someone who wants to be that guy — offense, defense, whatever — who’s going to step up and make that play.”
Defensively, Findlay held Bradley to just 67 yards rushing. But Jaguars’ quarterback Griffin Veil completed 23 of 35 passes for 264 yards. Jack Duffer caught eight passes for 181 yards, including a 13-yard catch for the winning touchdown in overtime.
Rickle carried 22 times for 67 yards and RJ Nunn ran 14 times for 50 yards. Rickle completed 11 of 23 passes for 130 yards. Parker Fetterman had three receptions, with Adam Gilbert, Pat Dillon and Isaiah Moore snaring two each.
“Offensively everything is kind of a grind right now. Nothing is coming real easy,” Ritzler said.
“We’re not going to break off any 60-yard plays. We’re not going to throw the ball 50 times a game and beat people. We’ve got to have some balance because we’re more of a grind-it-out team. The plus side of that is it keeps the ball out of the other team’s hands.”
In addition to Sweat’s fumble recovery, Findlay linebackers Cross DeLaCruz and Grant Morman teamed up four total sacks. Linebacker Aiden Eubanks, defensive end Khail Stokes and safety Owen Mullins had tackles for zero or minus yardage as well.
“I thought our linebackers played great,” Ritzler said. “Defensively, I thought we applied pressure and did a pretty good job of keeping the edge. We contained their run game for the most part, which is something we knew we had to do.”
SCOUTING REPORT: This season Upper Arlington returned eight starters on offense, including quarterback Sammy Sass, receiver Steve Bair and Brown University recruit Jud Utgard, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound lineman. Another big man up front is Sean McRae, a 6-5, 290-pound junior.
“I think Upper Arlington is a little better at running between the tackles (than Bradley) because they have some big kids up front that can move,” Ritzler said. ”
“The key to their offense, though, is their quarterback. He’s maybe a little more active with his feet, but he has a strong arm like Bradley’s quarterback and is just as accurate. He can throw on the run, he keeps his eyes down field when he scrambles …. he’s just a great athlete.”
Seven starters are also back on defense, including 6-5, 270-pound defensive end Jackson Ness, a Boston College recruit, and senior linebackers Tommy Dilz, Nick Fisanick and Ben Krimm.
Following Friday’s contest, Findlay hits the road for away games at Toledo Start (Sept. 7), Fremont Ross (Sept. 14), and Toledo St. Francis (Sept. 21).
“This is our only home game in the first five,” Ritzler said.
“Weather-wise it looks like it’s supposed to be a great night. It’s senior night and hopefully there will be a good crowd that will get us energized a bit.
“We saw some of that emotion and intensity come out at times. There’s a fine line between playing up on that edge and knowing when to pull back a bit, but they played hard, they fought, they battled, they got after it.”
KEYS TO THE GAME: “Offensively, we have to be able to run the ball between the tackles, and I think we have to be a little bit better in the screen game,” Ritzler said. “The screen game is area we talked about in the preseason. That helps alleviate some numbers in the box, which helps the running game.
“Defensively, Upper Arlington is a run team first so we have to be able to stop the run like we did against Hilliard Bradley. We also have to keep teams from going over the top. We’ve got to do a better job on deep plays down the field.”