State championship in Springfield’s reach
NEW MIDDLETOWN — It was snowing Tuesday during the conditioning portion of Springfield High School’s football practice.
Some teams might be annoyed to have to practice in the frigid temperatures. Not the Tigers.
“Our kids were so energetic today,” Springfield coach Sean Guerriero said. “(The snow) was a positive for us. I’m very happy with the beginning part of the week so far.”
He and the Tigers hope to be even happier by early next week when they face a different type of cold.
Springfield is playing as well as it has at any point of its incredible 34-2 run over the past three seasons. It’s a good thing, as the Tigers prepare to face top-ranked and unbeaten Coldwater, a perennial state power with six state titles. The teams meet in the Division VI championship game at 5:15 p.m. Sunday at 5:15 p.m. at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium.
Springfield, which is becoming a power of its own, isn’t intimidated.
“I even said this to them after the (state semifinal victory last week),” Guerriero recalled. “Last year we were all happy that we won and we were in the (state championship) game. We have a little bit more of a focus now, and maybe we can go win it. The second time around hopefully will be a better one.”
Springfield is out for redemption.
The Tigers are just the second Mahoning Valley public school to reach back-to-back state finals and the first since Warren Western Reserve did it in 1972 and 1973. That doesn’t mean much to Springfield, which was defeated 48-14 by Anna in the 2019 title game.
The Tigers want to bring home more hardware in 2020.
“Last year, we had the sourness in our mouths on the bus ride after losing 48-14,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Clayton Medvec said. “We just knew right then and there we wanted to come back to this spot. We’re here now, but we don’t want to just come back and play in it. We want to win it and get the trophy and get our ring.”
The Tigers, who turned the ball over four times in the 2019 title game, expect things to be different this time.
Their opponent isn’t any easier. The Cavaliers, who are in the same vaunted Midwest Athletic Conference as Anna, pose several offensive threats. Quarterback Myles Blasingame is the catalyst.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior rivals Springfield star QB Beau Brungard. Blasingame has run for 992 yards and 17 TDs. He’s completed 106-of-173 passes (61 percent) for 1,429 yards, 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. Speedy running back/receiver Zack McKibben (5-9, 155) has 731 yards and 10 TDs on 86 carries (8.5). Two other Cavaliers have at least 270 yards rushing.
Coldwater likes to spread it around, a lot like the Tigers. Four receivers have between 24 and 26 catches. Tyler Schweiterman leads the team in receiving yards (434) and is tied in TDs (7). Jay Muhlenkamp has a team-best 27 grabs for 328 yards and seven TDs. Jesse Meyer (26 for 372, 3 TDs) and McKibben (24 for 263, 2 TDS) are other key contributors.
“They have a lot of good skill kids,” Guerriero said. “Their quarterback is a very good athlete. He kind of reminds me of Beau. He’s a downhill runner. He gets the ball out quick. You can just tell he knows where to go with the ball. He doesn’t panic. He’s hitting his first or second read and letting it rip.”
Springfield’s defense appears ready for them.
The Tigers are coming off their best performance of the season, holding Fort Frye, which averaged 37 points per game (46.5 in the playoffs), to 13 points. Springfield’s two goal-line stands were the difference in the game.
While the Tigers’ offense is led by Brungard, who was nearly perfect in the state semifinal — completing 13-of-15 passes for 162 yards and zero interceptions and leading the team with 56 rushing yards — he is surrounded by talented players.
The offensive line has been outstanding throughout the season, led by center Brady Brungard (a captain). He’s flanked by guards Michael Wagner (also a captain) and A.J. Stallsmith, and tackles Zeek Worsencroft and Coleson Kertesz.
They’ve paved the way for a plethora of standout skill players. Brungard has 18 TDs and one interception to go along with 773 rushing yards and 19 TDs. Running back Clayton Nezbeth adds 511 rushing yards and nine TDs on 67 attempts, and fellow back Austin Tindell, who scored two TDs last week, has 372 yards and seven scores.
The receiving corps is loaded as well. Medvec leads the way with 38 receptions, 609 yards and two TDs. Lukas Yemma is another playmaker, with 26 grabs for 442 yards and three scores. Three other players have at least 10 catches and two TDs.
More importantly, Guerriero still sees weekly improvement.
“Our defense and the challenges these teams give you,” he said. “You don’t know much about them because you can’t compare who played who. It’s hard. You look at (us allowing 48 points to) Norwayne to Fort Frye. I thought our defense only giving up 13 points to Fort Frye was remarkable. Our defense inside the 10-yard line was unbelievable. So, yeah, guys are stepping up.”
He hopes that consistent improvement lasts one more week.
“We have not played our best game yet,” he said. “That’s what our goal is right now.”