Last week, ITCLfootball.net, the unofficial home of Inter Tri-County League football, posed the question: Who will win this week’s big game between Southern and Columbiana?
The results were 73 percent to 27 percent in favor of Columbiana.
The poll was quite accurate, too, since the Clippers won the Tier 2 showdown, 26-14.
“That gave us a measure stick,” Southern coach Mike Skrinjar said of the game that served as a wake-up call for the Indians (4-2), who are 2-1 in the tier.
“It’s going to be a competitive last four games to see who ends up winning the lower tier,” Skrinjar said of the battle among Columbiana, Southern, Western Reserve and Leetonia. “Columbiana is going to be the team to beat. At times, we had opportunities, but the bounces didn’t go our way. We didn’t win the turnover battle.”
The Indians lost two fumbles in the game.
Southern now faces Wellsville (3-3, 1-2).
“It’s a rival game in Salineville,” Skrinjar said, noting that Southern’s victory at Wellsville last year was huge. “We’ve beaten them five of the last seven times, but both losses were at their place.”
The Indians lean on senior wide receiver Jonathan (J.J.) Napierkowski, who had 13 catches for 171 yards against Columbiana.
“He’s a perfectionist in the way he runs his routes and the way he practices,” Skrinjar said of the 5-11, 185-pounder.
Napierkowski has 51 catches for 723 yards with seven TD catches and junior Jared Shilot has 31 receptions for 560 yards and six TDs.
Senior QB Luke Griffith is 99 of 151 for nearly 1,500 yards and 16 passing TDs.
“They’re all solid in the weight room and solid on the basketball floor, too,” Skrinjar said of Griffith, Shilot and Napierkowski as well as LT Kyler Woodward (6-4).
At the other tackle is 6-6 junior Caleb Gotshall.
“If he puts the work in, he’ll have a body that schools are going to want,” the coach said of Gotshall.
At center is three-year starter Logan Hickman, who was all-conference in 2011. Junior RG Dustin Earich also plays nose on defense. Rounding out the interior line is LG Christian Cogar, a senior co-captain.
“We have nice integrity in our offensive line,” Skrinjar said. “A lot of guys play both ways. We play ironman football.”
The leading tacklers are senior DE Dominic Gibson (12 per game), junior MLB Mike McKenzie and freshman Jesse McClurg.
“He’s all over the field,” Skrinjar said of the 6-2, 225 Gibson.
Of McClurg, the coach said: “He’s a good, fundamental tackler who is willing to sacrifice himself to make plays.
“He’s a breakout player,” the coach added. “Our whole mentality is to give the ball back to our offense.”
Special teams captain Steve Treadway, who does anything involving the foot, has made 25 of 27 PATs and one field goal.
In 2010, Skrinjar’s first head coaching season, the Indians made the playoffs for the first time, but lost at Bridgeport and finished 8-3.
In 2011, Southern set a school record with a 9-1 season.
What’s the postseason outlook in 2012?
“You never know how the points system will shake out,” Skrinjar said. “If we continue to win, we’re going to put ourselves in the best position possible for the playoffs.” John Bassetti is a sports writer for The Vindictor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org