By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay wraps up the 2018 football season at home on Friday when the Trojans take on Toledo Whitmer in a Three Rivers Athletic Conference contest.
Here’s the rundown.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Donnell Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler has posted a 70-61 record in his 12 seasons as Findlay High’s head coach. Ken Smith took over at Toledo Whitmer three seasons ago and has compiled a 27-6 record
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Toledo Whitmer clubbed Findlay 49-14 last season to cap a 10-0 regular-season record and complete a 7-0 run through the TRAC. The Panthers won 12 straight games before losing 34-7 to Olentangy Liberty in the Division I regional finals.
Findlay leads the overall series 15-12, but there’s a footnote to that record. Whitmer actually beat Findlay 49-23 during the 2011 season, but was later forced by the OHSAA to forfeit all wins for using an ineligible player.
Whitmer was Division I state runner-up in 2012 and reached the state semifinals in 2010 and 2011. The Panthers are currently fourth in the Division I Region 2 computer rankings, and can wrap up a home game for the first round of the playoffs with a win Friday.
“On Monday, we talk about our next opponent and I look at that team’s history,” Ritzler said. “Whitmer is something like 97-24 over the last 10 years and next to their record you see playoffs, playoffs, playoffs, playoffs, playoffs …. They are a team, a program that expects to be there every year.”
TALE OF THE TAPE: Toledo Whitmer was the preseason pick to win the TRAC, but the Panthers were beaten 21-0 by Toledo Central Catholic a month ago. Whitmer won close games against Toledo St. John’s (43-39) in Week 4 and Toledo St. Francis (42-35) last week and currently shares second place (5-1) with St. John’s in the league standings.
Findlay (4-5, 3-3 TRAC) is tied with Fremont Ross for fourth in the league standings. The Trojans started out 2-1 in the TRAC, but have lost two of their last three league games as key injuries and a brutal schedule that has them facing St. John’s, Central Catholic and Whitmer over the final four weeks has taken a toll.
“We’ve talked over the years about how getting those early wins can kind of steamroll you for success later on. Well, that kind of works the other way, too,” Ritzler said, referring to overtime losses to Hilliard Bradley (8-1) and Upper Arlington (5-4) the first two weeks of the season and a last-minute 43-42 loss to Fremont Ross in Week 4.
“Sometimes things don’t always work the way you want them to. Then you mix in some injuries at key points and facing St. John’s, Central Catholic and Whitmer at the end of the season when you’re not 100 percent — which is where we are right now — that can make things tough.”
FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY: The TRAC has seen some outstanding players come through the ranks, from prep standouts to college stars, some even to the NFL. A few more will be on the field Friday, including Whitmer junior quarterback Riley Keller and senior defensive end Cavon Butler.
Keller was the TRAC Offensive Player of the Year last season and has drawn interest from most of the D-I colleges in the Midwest, including Ohio State and Michigan State, along with West Virginia, Ole Miss and Boston College.
This season, the 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has completed 110 of 195 passes for 1,565 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“He hasn’t had quite had the production he had last year, but they’re 7-2 so they’re still doing a lot of things right,” Ritzler said.
“He’s a guy who moves and extends plays, but still keeps looking down field, sort of like Fremont’s quarterback (Hayden Lehmann). We want to try and keep him in the pocket but still get pressure on him and disrupt his timing. If he’s throwing it in time and in rhythm, he can throw it all over the field.”
Butler was the 2017 TRAC Defensive Player of the Year and a third-team all-Ohio selection. The 6-3, 288-pounder turned down offers from Alabama and Ohio State and signed a letter in intent to play college ball for Kentucky.
Kobe Myers (500 yards, 7 TDs) and Devin Mauder (300 yards, 5 TDs) are Whitmer’s top threats in the backfield. Dalan Layton (41 receptions, 440 yards, 9 TDs), Michael Varanese (300 yards) and Zach Walling, whose 23.3 yards-per-catch average is third highest in the TRAC, are Keller’s favorite targets in the passing game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: In last week’s loss to Toledo Central Catholic, both teams had 12 possessions, there was only a three-minute difference in time of possession and the gap in total offense was only 78 yards.
Central Catholic, though, used a couple of turnovers and a lot of big plays chalk up a lopsided win.
In Whitmer, Ritzler is preparing the Trojans to face a team with the same kind of big-play potential.
“We have to read our keys and be physical at the point of attack,” Ritzler said.
“We struggled to maintain drives (against Central Catholic), so we need to find ways to keep the ball out of the other team’s hands. We had some opportunities — whether it was the running game or the passing game — and we have to try to do that again.
“We have to make plays when they are there so we’ll throw a few wrinkles out there Friday night and hopefully we can do some things to move the sticks.”