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Rematches rule as Mahoning football teams continue in playoffs

The West Branch-Ursuline winner will advance to the state's final four.

When it comes to Mahoning County and the 2021 high school football playoffs, Ohio's other 87 counties are green with envy.

In all, 56 teams are competing for the 28 regional crowns this weekend. Mahoning County still has four teams alive. Next door in Trumbull County, Warren JFK is alive in Division VII.

Steve Ruman, longtime sports correspondent for The Vindicator and The Warren Tribune-Chronicle, said no other county has four teams still playing.

The four — Ursuline, West Branch, South Range, Springfield — are involved in playoff rematches from a year ago. Two teams (West Branch and South Range) are hoping for a different outcome.

At 7 p.m. Friday at South Range, third-seeded Ursuline (9-3) will take on top-seeded West Branch (13-0) in the Division IV Region 13 final.

At 7 p.m. Saturday at Niles' Bo Rein Stadium, second-seeded South Range (13-0) will take on top-seeded Kirtland (12-0) in the Division V Region 17 championship game.

At the same time at Salem's Sabo Stadium, third-seeded Springfield (12-1) will take on fourth-seeded Mogadore (10-3) in the Division VI Region 21 title game.

Also at that time at Marlington, third-seeded Warren JFK (9-2) will battle fourth-seeded Dalton (11-2) for the Division VII Region 25 crown.

Ursuline-West Branch

Last year, the Irish eliminated the Warriors, 38-31. West Branch is eager for revenge.

"I can't wait to play them again," senior linebacker Steven Marra said after the Warriors rallied last Friday in Boardman to oust Perry, 26-19. "It's going to be a great game, it's going to be fun."

Junior quarterback Dru DeShields, who has passed for 3,300 yards this season, agrees.

"I just can't wait to get revenge on them," said DeShields who has 36 TDs and four interceptions this season, his first as the varsity starter. "We lost to them last year by a touchdown. We've got to come out and play hard, play our game."

The Warriors and Irish both had to rally to advance to this game. West Branch trailed Perry (10-3) 13-6 at halftime, then promptly gave up another touchdown as Perry quarterback Brayden Richards threw a screen pass to Javin Richards near the sideline and the receiver eluded the Warriors for a 58-yard score.

What impressed West Branch head coach Ken Harris was how his team responded.

"They did not flinch, even when they scored," Harris said.

The Warriors defense took charge, shutting out the Pirates the rest of the way while DeShields engineered three scoring drives.

Marra acknowledged that the Irish present a tough test.

"We know how to face adversity, we've done it a few games now," said Marra referring to a three-point win over Howland and an overtime victory over archrival Salem.

Ursuline needed a late rally to overcome Glenville, 42-38, in Euclid. Trailing 38-35, the Irish stopped the Tarblooders on 4th-and-goal at the 1.

Two plays later, the Irish had the lead as senior quarterback Brady Shannon connected with senior Jakylan Iriving for a 68-yard touchdown.

"When you look at [West Branch] point totals, they definitely get your attention," Ursuline head coach Dan Reardon told WFMJ. "They have a quarterback who brings it all together."

Reardon said it's special that two Mahoning teams are playing each other in Week 14.

"That's just a blessing to the Mahoning Valley and the football that's played here," Reardon said.


South Range and Kirtland are meeting for the third straight season in the regional final. The Hornets (12-0) have won 53 straight games (longest streak in the USA), including four straight state titles.

In the 2019 regional semifinal in Niles, Kirtland rolled to a 38-7 win over the Raiders. A year ago, South Range lost again but the game was much closer (49-35).

Can the third time be the charm?

Dan Yeagley, South Range head coach, said last year's results inspire hope.

"Last year, we hung with them and we were banged up," Yeagley told WFMJ. "We're going to give it our best shot.

South Range (13-0) advanced with 15-12 nail-biting victory against then-undefeated Sugarcreek Garoway last Saturday in Louisville.

Kirtland advanced by handing Garfield (winner of the Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Gray) a 25-7 defeat, the only loss of the season for the G-Men (12-1).

Yeagley said the Raiders offense has to be able to move the ball for the Raiders to keep it close.

"Since they don't make mistakes, we can't afford to make mistakes," Yeagley said. "If we give them the ball, they are going to make us pay."


Last fall for the second consecutive season, Springfield ousted Mogadore (21-0). 

Two-time defending state runner-up Springfield (12-1) has won 12 straight since a season-opening loss to South Range (41-21).

Mogadore struggled in midseason after running back Tyler Knight injured his leg and was lost for the season. Wildcats head coach Matt Adorni says Knight is their best player, calling him "a beast."

Adorni moved tight end Mason Williams (6-foot 4, 235 pounds) to fullback and the move has paid dividends. Last Saturday in Niles, Williams scored six touchdowns including the game-winner in overtime as Mogadore knocked off top-seeded LaBrae, 48-41.

It was the 700th win for the Mogadore program.

Williams said the Wildcats know how talented Springfield is, but they are ready.

"No fear, we're not scared at all," Williams said. We're going right at them as much as we can."

Springfield defeated second-seeded Columbia 30-13 to set up the rematch.

"I can't wait," said linebacker Gavin Schrock, whose interception of Vikings quarterback Aidan Stephens produced the only defensive stop in the first half. "I'm excited to get some payback for the two years they beat us."

Adorni said his players have their work cut out for them.

"We know what they are all about," Adorni said of Springfield. "We're going to go battle.

"We know they have probably the best player in the state," said Adorni referring to senior quarterback Beau Brungard.


Warren JFK is the defending Region 25 champion. Last fall, the Eagles defeated Dalton, 28-18.

Warren JFK (9-2) advanced with a 35-7 win over St. Paul from Norwalk.

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