By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High’s football team finishes the 2018 season with homes games against Toledo Central Catholic and Toledo Whitmer, the perennial powers of the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
First up is Toledo Central Catholic, 8-0 overall, 5-0 in the TRAC and the No. 2-ranked Division II team in the state.
Here’s the rundown.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler has posted a 70-60 record in his 12 seasons as Findlay High’s head coach. On the opposite sideline on Friday will be Greg Dempsey, who has amassed a 188-45 record in his 19 seasons as head coach of the Irish. Dempsey guided TCC to Division II state championships in 2005 and 2012 and a Division III state title in 2014. Central Catholic has advanced to the state semifinals in either Division II or Division III in five of the past six seasons.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Toledo Central Catholic blanked Findlay 35-0 last season at Gallagher Stadium in Toledo. It was only the second time in 15 seasons a Findlay football team had been shut out. Both times have been by TCC, and both times by 35-0 scores.
Last year’s win gave TCC six straight wins over the Trojans and a 6-1 advantage in the series. Findlay beat the Irish 31-7 in 2011, the first year of TRAC competition. It was the first time the two schools met on the gridiron and, according to Ritzler, Central Catholic may have had a slight misconception of what it was up against.
“I always tell the story about the sign their cheerleaders made when they came to our place that first year. It had a big haystack on it. I don’t think they knew anything about Findlay at all,” Ritzler said.
“We put it to them pretty good that day. We kinda overwhelmed them. I remember walking across the field after the game and coach Dempsey just saying, ‘Wow.’
“I don’t think they put haystacks on their (pregame) banners any more.”
TALE OF THE TAPE: Findlay, which has won three of its last four games to improve to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the TRAC, is coming off a 40-13 win over Lima Senior. The Trojans trailed 7-0 less than two minutes into the game, but turned it around behind clutch defensive plays. Cross DeLaCruz recovered one fumble to set up a short 23-yard touchdown drive that tied the game, then recovered another fumble in the end zone. The Trojans also got a safety by Aidan Eubanks and a 30-yard field goal by Mitchell Taylor to go up 19-7 at the half.
Findlay generated most of its 164 rushing yards in the second half when junior quarterback Pat Dillon ran for two TDs and Jacob Rickman for one.
“We hit a couple of big pass plays: that screen to Aidan (Eubanks) for a touchdown when we needed it; that big fourth-down catch by RJ Nunn to keep a drive going. But that night was made for running the ball,” Ritzler said of the wet, chilly conditions.
“We won because our defense really set the table with field position and turnovers. We took advantage when the opportunities were there. When the ball was on the ground, we were in the right spot to fall on it. Earlier in the year, we weren’t capitalizing when the opportunities came up. That night, we did.”
Central Catholic’s unbeaten record includes nonleague wins over Columbus Bishop Hartley, ranked 11th among Ohio’s Division III schools, and Detroit Catholic Central, ranked 11th among the Division I schools in Michigan.
Central Catholic averages 44.6 points a game behind the talents of senior quarterback Troy Durden (600 yards rushing, 500 passing, 9 TDs), running back Jonzell Norris (400 yards) and two-sport (football, baseball) Michigan State recruit Jase Bowen (200 yards rushing, 200 receiving, 8 TDs).
But the strength of this Central Catholic team is a defense that hasn’t allowed a point since the second quarter of a 61-7 win over Oregon Clay. That scoreless stretch includes consecutive shutouts over Toledo Whitmer (17-0), Fremont Ross (49-0) and Toledo St. Francis (49-0).
“I think it’s one of the best defenses we’ve seen in a long, long time. The word I would use to describe them is overwhelming,” Ritzler said.
“We have four films on them. And when you watch them play it looks like the field is slanted. It looks like everything they do they are just running down hill. And it looks like the offense they’re going against has a weight tied to its back and is trudging up hill.
“They are very aggressive, they blitz, they are very physical up front … They’ve got a great nose guard and corners that play great man-to-man defense. They challenge you physically.
“There’s a reason they’re undefeated and handling people the way they are. This is one of coach (Dempsey’s) best teams, that’s for sure. And they’re gearing up for the long run. To win in November (playoffs) you have to have a great defense and they certainly have that.”
FUTURE PLANS: Facing a team the caliber of Toledo Central Catholic with a healthy squad of tested veterans would be a challenge. Injuries have forced Ritzler to expand his roster, though. Seven freshman were in uniform for last week’s game with Lima Senior and, thanks to a considerable lead, several of them saw action.
“It’s hard enough facing (Toledo Central Catholic) when you’re at full strength. Like most teams at this time of year, we’re a little beat up,” Ritzler said.
“You watch the sidelines, you watch films, everybody has some guys in street clothes. That’s the nature of the sport.
“Everybody else is just fighting to be up there in the same talk with teams like Central Catholic and Whitmer, because it usually goes back and forth between them.
“They’re the top dog in the league, so this is going to be a real measuring stick for our guys.”