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We meet again: Lakeview battles Struthers

November 8, 2013
By JOE SIMON - Tribune Chronicle (jsimon@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

There are countless differences with Struthers and Lakeview since the two squared off in Week 2 of the regular season, but one stands out more than any other.

The Wildcats beat up Lakeview, 35-14, on Sept. 6 with a dominant second half. One of the biggest plays of the game was a pick-six of Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Angelo Marino, who was starting his second career game under center.

Eight weeks later, the two meet again at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Laddie Fedor Field in a Division IV, Region 11 first-round showdown. This time around, both teams expect a different Marino.

Both coaches agreed the QB has grown quite a bit since the Wildcats (8-2) blew out Lakeview (7-3). His decision making is better. He makes audibles at the line of scrimmage. He's able to throw the ball downfield with confidence, and he's also a major threat out of the backfield.

Struthers coach Curt Kuntz is well aware of Marino's progress and versatility.

"The biggest difference is that they had a sophomore quarterback in his second game ever, and he kind of played like a sophomore at times," Kuntz said. "Coach (Tom) Pavlansky and I have a relationship, and I texted him a few days after the game, and I said, 'Your quarterback is going to be a special player,' and I was right. In the past eight games, he's improved every week."

Marino has completed 88 of 164 passes for 1,479 yards, 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (he also has 806 rushing yards and nine TDs on the ground). A sign of his development is that six of his picks came in the first three weeks - all losses - but he has nine touchdowns and five interceptions since then.

Equally important has been the play of the Bulldogs' defense, which is allowing 5.6 points per game over its last five contests. They'll need to keep it up against the powerful rushing attack of the Wildcats, which ripped Lakeview's defense for 227 yards and four touchdowns.

"They do a tremendous job running the ball, and we have to limit them in terms of that," Pavlansky said. "We have to a better job of stopping the run and try to get them in a down and distance that they're not used to and see what happens."

Luke Witkowski, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, is the catalyst behind Struthers ground game. He's accounted for 1,206 yards, 10 touchdowns and is averaging 8.3 yards per carry. He led the charge in the first matchup with 149 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. The running game will be critical in what should be a damp and muddy field. The Wildcats, whose only losses were to Hubbard (10-0) and Poland (9-1), believe that plays in their favor, thanks to their rushing attack and a defense allowing just 14 points per game.

"Physical," said Kuntz when asked to describe the identity of his team. "We try to be the most physical offense on the field. If you're in northeast Ohio and your goal is get into Week 11, you better be a physical football team and be able to run the ball."

The fact that each team is familiar with the other means a few adjustments and wrinkles will be added, the coaches said, but neither gave away any hints. Pavlansky and Kuntz each emphasized the importance of taking care of the ball, avoiding negative plays and handling the moment.

"They physically beat us up (in the first game)," Pavlansky said. "We got our work cut out for us. We know the place is going to be packed. We know the hostile environment we're getting into, and our kids are excited about it."