New game plan for South Range

GREENFORD-After spending a week preparing for a Cuyahoga Heights team that wished to do nothing but pass, the South Range football team will have to switch gears in a hurry if they hope to advance in the state playoffs.

The Raiders (11-0) travel to Minerva’s Hines Stadium for a second-round Division VI showdown with the Mogadore Wildcats (10-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Much like with Cuyahoga Heights, the Raiders know without a doubt what to expect on Friday. But while the Redskins threw the ball all over the place, the Wildcats are going to come straight ahead with power.

“Cuyahoga Heights threw the ball 50 times against us and these guys (Mogadore) will probably run it 50 times,” South Range coach Dan Yeagley said. “You won’t see too many weeks with this much of a contrast in styles.”

The Raiders have spent the first part of this week unlearning what was drilled into them last week preparing for the spread attack of the Redskins, instead reverting back to what they practiced going against the run-heavy teams of the Inter-Tri County League upper tier.

“Right now we are just going back to the basics,” South Range senior outside linebacker Eric Liston said. “Last week was different because we had to practice a lot of new things for just one game. This week it’s just getting back to what we’ve done all season long.”

The center of the Raiders attention is Brandon Berry, the latest in a long line of outstanding Mogadore running backs. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior leads the Wildcats with 1,468 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Berry began the year running behind four new starters in the offensive line while also trying to fill the ample gap left by the graduation of 2012 Division VI offensive player of the year Gary Strain.

After fumbling on two of his first four carries in the opening game against Norton, Berry busted loose for a school-record 316 yards to pace the Wildcats 49-34 win. He hasn’t looked back since.

“He’s the real deal,” Yeagley said. “He has great balance and good speed. It’s no secret that they are going to give him the ball as much as possible and come right at us.”

The Wildcat offense features an overwhelming amount of isolation and off-tackle runs behind a line led by Kenny Vechik, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior. For Yeagley the challenge represents football at its most basic level.

“It’s very simple this week,” Yeagley said. “We have to tackle. if we don’t tackle we won’t win. With Berry’s balance and his speed, if you miss a tackle, all of a sudden he has eight yards. The whole game will come down to him not getting those extra yards.”

“I think we matchup pretty well,” South Range senior defensive back Zach Thorpe said. “We’ve played the run very well all season long and are very solid in all parts of our defense. Hopefully we can force them into some obvious passing situations.”

South Range will also look to run early and often. Junior running back Joe Alessi continued his stellar campaign last week with 206 yards and four touchdowns. He, along with his backfield mate Billy Goodall will be central to the Raiders plan.

Quarterback Ryan Miller offers a more than capable change-up if teams crowd to close. The senior was his usual efficient self last week, completing 10-of-18 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, he has thrown 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions.

“We are a lot alike,” Yeagley said. “We run a little more out of the shotgun than they do, but it’s no secret that we both run the ball a lot.”

Like the Raiders, when the Wildcats do pass, the results can be lethal for the opposition. Though quarterback Anthony Ricci completed less than 50 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and five interceptions, Yeagley said his squad needed to guard against overplaying the run.

“We have to be very careful,” Yeagley said. “They will pound at you repeatedly and it can lull you to sleep, that’s when they will try and pass. We have to be very disciplined on defense.”

Defensively, the Wildcats are similar in size to the Raiders, but don’t have a single player who also plays on offense, unusual for a Division VI school. The defense is led by 6-2, 185-pound junior defensive lineman Andy Owens atn 5-10, 175-pound senior linebacker Bryce Huth.

“They are very quick and aggressive,” Yeagley said. “They work on getting one-on-one blocking matchups and trying to win those battles. We have to do a good job of getting a body on everyone.”

At this level of the playoffs, the Raiders know that the talent gap between teams keeps shrinking and that execution will be the deciding factor.

“It all comes down to everyone doing their job, that’s it.” Liston said. “The teams are only going to get better from here. If everyone does their individual job, we will be fine.”