The Tigers face Madison
Friday night at home in a Div. II regional game.
By STEVE RUMAN
HOWLAND — If Dick Angle’s assessment of the Madison football team is accurate, Howland fans had better be prepared for a nerve-racking evening when the Blue Streaks and Tigers meet Friday in the regional quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs.
“Madison reminds me a lot of both Lakeview and Poland,” Angle said. “I think if you blended the size, athleticism, and talent of the two teams, you’d end up with the team we’re playing Friday night.”
“Of course, two of our toughest games this year were against Lakeview and Poland, so going up against that type of team is a bit scary.”
Howland and Madison took different paths to the playoffs. The Blue Streaks (7-3) lost their final game of the regular season last Friday to Painesville Riverside, then received unexpected outside help Saturday to finish No. 8 in Region 5.
Howland, meanwhile, was among the Region 5 leaders throughout the season. The Tigers vaulted to the top of the region after it defeated backyard rival Niles to compile the first 10-0 record in school history. The Tigers also captured the Metro Athletic Conference title in what was the league’s final season.
“Ten weeks ago, we knew we had the capability to put together a special season,” Angle said. “That being said, you can never be certain when you’re dealing with 16- and 17-year-olds.”
“However, we have a very special group of seniors, and all of our kids chose to play as a team. They don’t care about individual stats. They are only concerned with the numbers on the scoreboard.”
Howland is led offensively by Dante Marsh (99 carries, 910 yards, 8 TDs) and Nate Cope (73 carries, 630 yards, 9 TDs). Sophomore quarterback Matt Preston, who is also a running threat, has completed 48 of 75 passes for 605 yards.
Preston’s favorite targets include Cope (14 receptions, 180 yards) and Kyle Spence (8 receptions, 117 yards).
“Our three leading offensive players all have roughly 1,100 all-purpose yards,” Angle said. “The fact that all three have been equally productive has made it tough on opposing defenses. Plus, Matt [Preston] has completed passes to about seven different wide receivers — all who do a tremendous job of blocking on the perimeter.”
While Howland has outscored its opponents 346-98, it was tested on several occasions throughout the season. Against Lakeview, the Tigers trailed 7-6 late in the contest before a Tyler Scott interception sparked a comeback victory.
Against Poland, Howland recovered a fumble late in the fourth quarter just as the Bulldogs were about to cross the goal line in a tie game. The Tigers went on to win 20-14 in overtime.
“People talk about us being a team of destiny, but I think that any time a team goes 10-0 a little bit of luck is involved,” Angle said. “I also believe that this team made the big plays when it needed to because of its preparation and because of its belief that if you play hard from whistle to whistle, good things will happen.”
While much was made about the Tigers’ play against the likes of Canfield, Poland and Niles, Angle pointed to another series of games when asked to pinpoint the defining moment of the season.
“We played a stretch of three games against MAC opponents who were really struggling, and we managed to improve as a team during that stretch,” Angle noted. “In the past, some of our teams had a tendency to play the level of its opponent. This team continued to play at its level all season long. It was another sign of maturity and the willingness to never be satisfied.”
Madison’s offense is anchored by Nick DiLillo (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), a senior tight end who has verbally committed to Ohio State. Quarterback J.D. Ingalls has thrown for 1,372 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Nick Yeager (906 yards) and Mitch Krotz (565 yards) lead a balanced rushing attack.
The Blue Streaks’ offensive line includes standouts Kevin Hendricks (6-3, 310) and Kyle Glass (6-4, 275).
“[DiLillo] is the real deal, they have an outstanding running game, and the quarterback is a very smart kid who seems to make all the right decisions,” Angle said. “They are a complete team that is well-coached.”
Now in his 10th season with the Tigers, Angle has led Howland to four of its five postseason appearances. Howland — 4-3 all-time in postseason play — last appeared in the playoffs in 2003.
Madison, also making its fifth postseason appearance, is 0-4. The Blue Streaks’ last trip to the playoffs (2002) ended with a 28-6 home loss to Howland.