By John Kovach
Youngstown-area football players will be rivals when Ohio University (9-4) and Marshall (6-6) collide in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday.
Donovan Fletcher and Kenny Jackson, both from Liberty High where they were teammates, will be playing for the Bobcats, while Kellen Harris of Sharon High and Tyler Shick of Boardman High will be performing for the Thundering Herd in the game starting at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
Fletcher (6-foot, 195 pounds), a redshirt junior safety, and Jackson (5-9, 163), a redshirt sophomore cornerback, helped Ohio win the Mid-American Conference East title (7-1) a berth in the MAC championship game.
But the Bobcats lost the final to Central Michigan, 20-10, on Dec. 4 at Ford Field in Detroit, where they will return Saturday with the hope of a different outcome.
Fletcher and Jackson have been part of an Ohio defense that leads the nation in forced turnovers (36), and ranks among the top seven nationally in fumbles recovered (16), passes intercepted (20) and turnover margin (1.08).
Fletcher has played in all 13 games this year and has 40 tackles, including 20 solo stops, to rank No. 9 on the team.
Jackson has played in eight games and has registered six tackles, including four solo stops.
Harris (6-3, 236), a sophomore middle linebacker from Sharon, is Marshall’s fourth-leading tackler with 67 stops, including 23 unassisted, and also has six tackles for losses of 16 yards.
Shick (5-8, 180), a junior running back from Boardman and a walk-on to the Marshall team, has not played in any games this year, but he is on the travel roster for the bowl.
Ohio will be in its fourth bowl appearance, including its second under fifth-year coach Frank Solich, who led the Bobcats to their second MAC East title in four years, Solich was named Phil Steele’s Mid-American Conference coach of the year last Friday.
OU’s other bowl game under Solich was in 2006 in the GMAC Bowl against Southern Mississippi — the Bobcats’ first bowl trip in 38 years.
Solich, who has a 32-30 record at OU, including 24-16 in the MAC, also was named MAC coach of the year in 2006.
Marshall, meanwhile, will be playing the bowl game under interim coach Rick Minter, who will fill in for Mark Snyder who resigned Nov. 29 after a 52-21 loss to UTEP.
Snyder coached Marshall for five seasons and posted a 22-37 record.
Marshall named John “Doc” Holliday as the school’s 29th coach on Dec. 17. Holliday came from West Virginia where he served as associate head coach for the past two seasons, and was director of recruiting while coaching tight ends and fullbacks.
Fletcher and Jackson also saw playing time last season.
Fletcher played in 11 games and made eight tackles. In 2007, he played on special teams after being redshirted in 2006.
Jackson got in nine games last year as a reserve in Ohio’s secondary, and also played on special teams. In 2007, he was redshirted in his first season.
Fletcher, the son of Carl and Vikki Fletcher, is majoring in communication studies.
While at Liberty, Fletcher won two letters as a free safety and wide receiver and was an all-state honorable mention.
In 2005 as a senior, Fletcher helped the Leopards to a perfect 10-0 regular season and a playoff berth. He had 22 receptions for 413 yards, including a career-long catch of 73 yards, and made 79 tackles and returned an interception 77 yards.
Jackson, the son of Donna Gibson and Kenny Jackson, is majoring in economics.
While at Liberty, Jackson won one letter in 2006 and led the team to a 9-1 record and the state playoffs. He had six interceptions, returning three of them for touchdowns, and also returned four punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns.
He made the All-Trumbull Athletic Conference and All-Trumbull County first teams.