By DAVE HANNEMAN
Findlay opens Three Rivers Athletic Conference play this week at Toledo Whitmer.
WHEN & WHERE: 7 p.m. Friday at Whitmer’s Memorial Stadium.
COACHES: Mark Ritzler is 71-64 in his 14 seasons at Findlay High. Ken Smith owns a 32-7 record in his fourth year as Whitmer’s head coach.
LAST MEETING/OVERALL SERIES: Toledo Whitmer beat Findlay 42-7 in Week 10 last season, a win that clinched for the Panthers a home game in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.
Findlay still holds a slight 15-13 edge in the overall series, but the results have definitely been tilted in the Panthers’ favor since Three Rivers Athletic Conference play began, starting with the 2011-12 school year. On the field, Findlay has never beaten Whitmer in eight TRAC games. In 2011, however, Whitmer was forced to forfeit 13 games, including three playoff wins and a 49-23 TRAC victory over Findlay, when the OHSAA determined the Panthers had used an ineligible player that season. That decision bumped Findlay from runner-up (6-1) to league champion (7-0) in the TRAC standings.
TALE OF THE TAPE: Findlay enters TRAC play with a 1-2 record after knocking off a 2-0 Marysville team last week. The Trojans had their most productive game of the year against Marysville, generating 110 yards rushing, 163 through the air and 16 first downs.
Findlay had three quick scoring drives, and three other ball-control, time-consuming drives that were at least nine plays or longer. The ability to eat up yards and clock will be crucial against a potent Whitmer team featuring senior quarterback Riley Keller, senior running back Jared Banks and junior receiver Justin Johnson.
“We have to get some first downs and try to control the ball,” said Findlay High assistant Todd Armstrong, who handled the pregame interview with FHS head coach Mark Ritzler away due to a family medical emergency.
“Obviously you want to put the ball in the end zone every time. But even if we don’t score, if we can move the ball we can keep their offense off the field.”
Keller missed most of his junior season due to injury. But the four-year starter, who has signed to play college ball for Bowling Green State University, entered this season with 5,952 career yards and 68 TD passes. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior threw for 315 yards and five TDs as Whitmer improved to 3-0 with last week’s 49-31 win over Perrysburg.
Johnson, a speedy 5-5, 145-pound junior, caught only three passes in that game, but all three went for scores covering 23, 72 and 66 yards. He has five touchdown receptions in three games.
Banks rushed for 1,422 yards and 15 touchdowns for Monroe (Mich.) High School in 2018, then transferred to Whitmer last February. He ran sprints and relays for Whitmer’s Division I state runner-up track team last spring and is off to an excellent start on the Panthers’ football team.
Banks had 32 carries for 145 yards and scored both Whitmer TDs in a 14-7 win over Detroit Catholic Central, a perennial prep power that has won 10 Michigan state football championships. Through three games, the 5-11, 200-pound back, an Indiana State recruit, has rushed for 452 yards and five scores. He’s added two other TDs on long pass receptions.
“He’s the best running back we’ve seen all year,” Armstrong said. “Teams have had a hard time stopping him.”
A CASE FOR THE DEFENSE: Marysville stunned Findlay early, going up 7-0 on a 97-yard run by fullback Ryan Kern on the Monarchs’ sixth play from scrimmage. Marysville actually ended up with more first downs (20) and total yards (484) than Findlay, but the Trojans’ defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way. Findlay stoned Marysville three times in fourth-down situations, forced three punts and stopped another drive by recovering a fumble.
Linebackers Aidan Eubanks and Brandon Hamilton led Findlay’s defensive effort with 10 tackles each. Sam Weihrauch had eight tackles and Cross DeLaCruz and Justin Roth both had six. Eubanks and Ryan Sweat had quarterback sacks; DeLaCruz recovered the fumble that ended a Marysville drive late in the third quarter.
“We’ve got a good defense, and against Whitmer we have to be physical,” Armstrong said.
“We have to stop the run first, so we have to match their physicalness in the running game. Keller’s got a great arm and can beat you deep, but we can’t give up big plays, we can’t let anything get over our heads.”
In other TRAC openers this week, Toledo Central Catholic (3-0), the coaches preseason pick to win the league, is at No. 2-pick Toledo St. John’s (2-1). Lima Senior (2-1) visits Oregon Clay (3-0) and Fremont Ross (1-2) hosts Toledo St. Francis (2-1).