Bears finally hit the big time
EETONIA — The Leetonia football team is getting noticed outside of town.
The Bears are off to a 4-0 start and ranked 12th in Division VII of the second Associated Press high school football poll released Monday.
“It’s a nice thing to get mentioned statewide as far as that goes,” Leetonia coach Paul Hulea said. “It’s nice people recognize your work.”
It has been quite a turnaround at Leetonia. The Bears are 14-10 in three seasons under Hulea after losing 44 of their previous 47 games.
They’ve done it with a stout defense that has given up 41 points all season and on the legs of senior running back Marco Ferry.
Ferry has rushed for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns on 116 carries (7.6) and has added 11 two-point conversions.
Leetonia is tied with United for the Eastern Ohio Athletic Conference lead, both with 4-0 marks, one game ahead of defending champion Southern Local.
The Bears play winless East Palestine at 7 p.m. Saturday at Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium.
“We’re excited about that,” Hulea said. “We were just trying to find a venue that everybody can go to the game. We’re hoping to have a student section. That’s the only venue we can find.”
Seating will still be limited to 1,500 fans.
In the opening week of the season, Ursuline and Chaney planned to sell general admission tickets to a Thursday game at Stambaugh Stadium, but that plan was shot down by the Youngstown City Health Department and Youngstown State University.
Several other games have been played at Stambaugh Stadium since then, but no tickets were available to the general public.
“We had an opportunity we could rent the stadium and we had an anonymous donor who would like to do that for the team,” Leetonia Superintendent Dennis Dunham said. “That would give more family members and relatives an opportunity to attend a game. We’re limited to 300 people (at Leetonia’s stadium).”
The district was appreciative of the local donor.
“It’s our home game and we looked at it as an opportunity,” Dunham said. “It’s tough to turn that down.”
Stambaugh Stadium will be a new venue to some, but not to others.
“I’ve coached a couple of games there (while at Poland) and seen a lot of YSU games,” Hulea said.
He said the Bears aren’t looking past East Palestine, which has a 15-game losing streak, and ahead to next week when the Bears travel to United for an Oct. 2 game that will decide the EOAC title.
“I’m a one week-at-a-time guy,” Hulea said. “(East Palestine coach Tony Foster) does a great job with his guys. We are strictly on EP and that’s where we are at.”
Also in the state rankings for the first time this season is West Branch (4-0), which is 12th in Division IV. The Warriors have defeated Salem, Minerva, Alliance and Carrollton and have scored at least 37 points in every game.
West Branch will host East Liverpool on Friday in the first meeting between the two teams.
South Range (4-0) climbed a spot to third in Division V. The Raiders carry an eight-game regular-season win streak into Friday’s home game against Struthers. South Range will play at 4-0 Hubbard (ranked 17h in Division III) on Oct. 2.
Springfield (4-0) also climbed one spot to fourth in Division VI. The Tigers have outscored their four opponents a combined 187-38. They have won 19 straight regular-season games heading into Friday’s home game against winless Waterloo.
Other teams of local interest include Austintown Fitch (4-0) at 11th in Division II; Canfield (3-0) at third, New Philadelphia (3-1 after a 31-0 win over Steubenville on Friday) at 11th and Steubenville (3-1) at 15th in Division III; St. Clairsville (4-0) remains first in Division IV; and Warren JFK (3-1) and Malvern (4-0) ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, in Division VII.