By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay High’s football team will have to be road warriors the rest of the 2019 season. Three of the Trojans’ last four regular-season games are on the road, starting with Friday’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference contest against Oregon Clay.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday on Ted Federici Field at Clay Memorial Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler is 72-66 in his 14 seasons at Findlay. Third-year Clay coach John Galyas is 10-16 at the school.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Findlay beat Clay 42-13 last season and is 8-0 against the Eagles since the TRAC began operations with the 2011-12 school year. Findlay won seven of eight games with Clay when both were members of the Great Lakes League (1995-2002), giving the Trojans a 15-1 edge in the series.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Oregon Clay enters the game 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the TRAC. The Eagles won their first four games, their best start since their 2002 team started 6-0.
“This is the first time they’ve had four wins this early in the season in quite a while,” Ritzler said.
“They have their quarterback back, they’ve had some success, their coach has been there a few years and the kids know the system … We’re going to their place and its homecoming, so they’re feeling confident.”
Logan Heintschel, who threw for 1,639 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, triggers one of the top passing attacks in the TRAC. The junior quarterback has completed 58 percent of this year’s passes (84-145) for 992 yards and six TDs, with Andrew Collins (12 recps., 288 yards), Jonah Kiss (26 recps., 232 yards) and Derek Bolander (14 recps., 218 yards) his top targets.
“Due to an injury, their quarterback had to play as a sophomore, so he has a year under his belt and knows that offense very well,” Ritzler said.
“They’re a passing team: spread, a lot of motion, two-by-two, three-by-one, some empty (backfield) at times. They’re less of a vertical passing team, and not as much play action as we saw from Perrysburg. They want to get the ball out of (Heintschel’s) hands quickly and keep him clean. They’ll run slants, screens, hitches; dink and dunk you underneath to get you thinking in front, then do some double moves behind to try and catch you sleeping.
“We’ll change some things up (defensively), go with some different looks and move around a bit. We want to eliminate the run game altogether, so you can’t abandon that. What it still comes down to, though, is tackling out in space.”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Following its 4-0 start, Clay has dropped its last two games, 36-7 to Toledo St. Francis in Week 5 and 60-7 last week to unbeaten and No. 2-ranked (Division II) Toledo Central Catholic.
Findlay, coming off a 16-7 loss to St. Francis, is 2-4 overall, 1-2 in the TRAC.
“(Oregon Clay) got tagged pretty good last week by (Toledo) Central Catholic, but a lot of teams have,” Ritzler said.
“I have a feeling they’re going to regroup, and they’re looking at us at 2-4 and thinking (Findlay) is coming along at the perfect time for them as a way to get things righted up there.
“Career-wise, we’re 15-1 or 16-1 against them. Like we talked about with (Toledo) St. Francis, and not saying they (Clay) need this game to get over the hump or the hurdle, but we’ve been somebody they’ve not been able to get by the past few years and they’re looking at this as their opportunity.”
OUT OF THE GATE: Through the first six games, Findlay has held a first-quarter lead just once. It’s a concern for Ritzler, especially this week.
“We never play well up there at their place, especially from the get-go,” Ritzler said.
“We’ve struggled to put points on the board, so we can’t get behind like we have the past few years. We might not be able to dig ourselves out of that hole.”
A key, Ritzler says, is a focus on sound, basic football.
“What our offense comes down to is we have to put two good plays together in a row, then worry about getting a third and a first down, then worry about getting two first downs in a row,” he said.
“If we get two first downs, then we get a drive. And when we get a couple of good drives we get a touchdown.
“We can’t be thinking, ‘We have to score this many points in a game.’ We can’t have negative plays and keep playing behind the sticks. Right now, I think our guys are trying to put 21 or 28 points on the board with one play. We just have to do one good play and do our job.
“Defensively, if a guy goes the wrong way or misses a tackle up front, somebody else is always there. You can hide a mistake more easily on defense.
“But if you make a mistake on offense — a lineman misses a block or a receiver misses one block out on a screen or a running back doesn’t pick up a block on pass protection — then the play is done. It’s much more difficult to hide a mistake on offense than it is on defense.”
HISTORICAL HIGHLIGHT: The Findlay/Clay rivalry has produced some great plays, including a 100-yard kickoff return by Sean Abbott in the Trojans’ 29-19 win on Oct. 13, 2000.
Clay had just scored to cut Findlay’s lead to 22-12. The ensuing kickoff came in high but Abbott, with his heels almost on the goal line, speared the ball and headed up field. He followed the wedge up the middle, broke free around midfield, and juked his way past one final tackler to complete a school-record 100-yard kickoff return.