Friday night's Division VI, Region 21 championship game between Youngstown Christian and Mogadore will be a battle between the new kid on the block and the established veteran.
Mogadore is a four-time state champion and has more regional championships (15) than seasons the Eagles (9-2) have been in existence (nine). But Youngstown Christian is confident, as it defeated the Wildcats 20-17 in a regional quarterfinal last season, the first postseason victory in school history.
Friday's game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Ravenna's Gilcrest Field.
"It's a blessing for our program to get this far," Youngstown Christian coach Brian Marrow said. "The kids are pretty excited. It's going to be a struggle. We're playing a monster of a team in Mogadore, with all the history and tradition they have.
"I think it gives the kids confidence but that (victory over Mogadore) was last year. That means nothing now. The kids understand that. They're not content just making the playoffs and winning a couple games. Of course we're proud, but they want to go further."
Marrow added that his players have no concern with the history of the tradition-rich Mogadore program.
"We've been here before. It was the same thing last year," he said. "Our kids don't know anything about Mogadore. You can throw all that stuff out (about Mogadore's history). They don't know about their tradition. Today's generation is all about the now."
Mogadore coach Matt Adorni said his returning players remember last season's defeat but aren't specifically looking for revenge.
"I'd be lying if I said the kids were not excited for the opportunity," said Adorni, who is 87-23 in his ninth season with the Wildcats. "People play up revenge, but we know they're a great opponent. We do a good job respecting everybody. We feel like it couldn't be a better script. It's a good opportunity to win a regional championship against a team that knocked us off before."
In last week's regional semifinal games, Youngstown Christian got yet another huge stand from its defense in a 25-20 victory over Malvern, while Mogadore (12-0) broke a halftime tie and rolled past Western Reserve, 28-7.
"We told you the kids had a lot of heart in the face of adversity," Marrow said. "It was a blessing to come out on top. At halftime they felt pretty good. They kept saying 'We can win this game.' They showed a lot of heart and character."
"It was a chess match in the first half," Adorni said of the game against Western Reserve. "We kind of felt at halftime we got too fancy. We got back to what we know best. Gary Strain and Brandon Berry ripped off some big runs. I think we were able to wear them down a little bit. It was a tough, rugged, physical game."
Both teams have superb playmakers on both sides of the ball. Youngstown Christian's offense is led by running back Ryan Grier (1,532 yards on 153 carries with 17 touchdowns), quarterback Emmett Underwood (1,340 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions), and wide receivers Darrien Townsend (34 catches, 570 yards, nine TDs, with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards and 14 total scores) and Ryan Coyier (32 catches, 370 yards, three touchdowns). On defense, KaeVon Green leads the way with 22 sacks and 70 tackles.
"Obviously, they have great athletes," Adorni said. "They're well coached. They put their athletes in good spots to be successful. They're sort of like us. They're not going to get too fancy if they don't have to. They play well as a team. They had a little taste of the playoffs last year and they've taken that a step further."
Mogadore has a three-headed backfield with quarterback Anthony Ricci (1,402 yards with 18 touchdowns and four picks) and running backs Strain (1,681 yards, 23 TDs) and Berry (932 yards, 13 touchdowns). On defense, linebackers Bryce Huth (118 tackles, three INTs and two sacks), Evan Uhalley (104 tackles, two interceptions) and Justin Chew (104 tackles, five picks) are the top tacklers, while lineman Scot Hower leads with 5 sacks.
Both coaches stressed clean play as the key to victory on Friday night.
"We're going to have to feel like our offense is in sync like it has been all season long," Adorni said. "We're averaging about 40 points per game. I think we can do enough things offensively to keep them off balance. We're going to have to feel the other team out. They don't have a lot of weaknesses. You have to be patient in playoff games. You only need one big play to get the momentum. You have to finish drives. Last week (against Youngstown Christian), Malvern had three drives in the red zone and they only had one result in a field goal."
"It's the same story with any game," Marrow said. "Keep the penalties and turnovers to a minimum. We'd like to see no turnovers like last week. We have to block and tackle well, especially with Gary Strain. He's just a tremendous talent. They have another back who's pretty good. Their quarterback is pretty good. They return a majority of their team from last year, so we have to play mistake-free football and it will come down to who executes the best."