Four vying to advance
Traditionally this week would mark the true beginnings of the high school football playoffs as the best eight teams in each region are now left.
Two prior weeks of playoffs in which every team was eligible trimmed down the fields to 32 in each division.
In Columbiana County, Crestview and Leetonia are the lone team standing. Slightly north of the county border West Branch and South Range are alive and kicking.
The Bears (6-1) will lead off area football playoff action as they host McDonald (6-1) at 7 p.m. on Friday in a Div. VII, Region 25 quarterfinal.
Leetonia remains 10th in the weekly state high school football poll released Monday.
The Blue Devils are coming off possibly playing their last game at A.A. Burkey Stadium on Friday in a 26-14 win over Jackson-Milton. McDonald will move its games to a new facility next season. The program, dating back to 1921, also registered its 600th victory on Friday.
Leetonia won its first home playoff game in school history on Friday and is looking for more. The Bears again will hope senior running back Marco Ferry is as healthy as possible for the tilt between the old Inter-Tri County League members. Ferry played well in the win over Buckeye Central but was still ginger from an injury suffered weeks before.
The last time Leetonia and McDonald met was in 2014. The last win by Leetonia over McDonald was in 2012.
On Saturday, the action will shift to Div. IV, V and VI.
Crestview (5-1) cruised past Ravenna Southeast in its second-round playoff game on Saturday and will have a greater challenge this time in Garrettsville Garfield (7-0).
The G-Men, ranked sixth in Div. V, shook off a pesky but underachieving Cardinal Mooney in its second-round Region 17 playoff game on Saturday.
The last time the Rebels traveled north to play the G-Men was Sept. 23, 2016. Garfield won that game 41-14 and went on to each the regional final that season. That game was notable for the traffic jam created by a multi-million dollar Queen of Hearts contest run out of SkyLane Bowling in Garrettsville.
South Range (7-0) had no peer in the Northeast 8 this season and the Raiders are ranked third in this week’s Div. V poll. South Range will host Beachwood (6-0) on Saturday in a Region 17 quarterfinal.
Beachwood began its season on Sept. 11, but has been rolling ever since. The Bison were a playoff qualifier last season but went out in the first round.
West Branch (7-0) sits 10th in Div. IV in the state poll as the Warriors are enjoying a renaissance under coach Ken Harris. The Warriors have not been this deep in the playoffs since 2007. West Branch’s opponent Youngstown Ursuline (5-2) is looking to also recapture some past glories as the Irish seem to have their best team since 2015 when the squad went to the Div. IV state semifinals.
West Branch is led by standout quarterback Brock Hillyer. Hillyer leads the team in rushing with 525 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through the air Hillyer is 118 of 174 for 1,560 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
In Div. VI, Springfield Local (7-0) is ranked fourth and is still looking like a strong candidate to return to the state championship game. The Tigers host St. Thomas Aquinas in a Region 21 quarterfinal on Saturday.
Fresh off surviving an upset bid by Salem on Saturday, Poland (6-1) is ranked 11th in Div. IV and will host Chagrin Falls on Saturday in a Region 13 quarterfinal. Chagrin Falls advanced because second-round opponent Mogadore Field had exposure to coronavirus.
¯ Four teams in last week’s top 10 lost over the weekend — three of them in Div. I (Lakewood St. Edward, Cincinnati Princeton and Pickerington North).
¯ Kirtland’s Tiger Laverde got his 200th win on Saturday and will look to add more as the heavily-favored Hornets welcome Sandy Valley on Saturday in a Div. V, Region 17 quarterfinal.
¯ Regular season games scheduled for Friday involving area teams include: Columbiana at Lakeview, East Liverpool at Salem, United at East Palestine, Wellsville at Edison, Sebring at Lisbon, Southern at Harrison Central and Beaver Local at Martins Ferry.