It’s no accident that the Dover High football team, one of the best Division III teams in Ohio, is traveling to Austintown tonight to play Division I power Fitch.
Dover head coach Dan Ifft, a Niles native, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We want to see where we are at,” said Ifft after last week’s 53-24 victory over Canfield. “I know it’s going to take a yeoman’s effort on our part.
“But we have a philosophy that we’ve lived by for 19 years — you don’t get better unless you play better people,” Ifft said. “They are a tremendous program so we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves at Falcon Stadium.
“It’s a big, big game for us.”
For Ifft, the game also is a homecoming. He began his coaching career as an assistant at Fitch.
“That’s where I coached my first varsity game in 1980,” Ifft said of Falcon Stadium.
Last year, Dover advanced to the Division III state semifinals. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary — the team that ousted Hubbard 54-14 in Week 12 — defeated Dover, 48-13, then went on to win the state title.
This week, Fitch is ranked fifth among Ohio’s Division I teams in the Associated Press poll. In Division III, the Tornadoes are No. 3, two spots back of SVSM.
Ifft figures his Tornadoes will have their hands full with the talented Falcons.
“We put Fitch on the schedule because Fitch is that type of team,” said Ifft, referring to Akron SVSM. “They are the equivalent to a state champion team — a tremendous football program.
“What can you say about Phil Annarella?” said Ifft of the Falcons’ mentor. “The guy has got Hall of Fame credentials. ”
Last week, Canfield stunned Dover (3-0) by jumping out to a 24-13 lead late in the second quarter.
But one offensive play later, the lead was down to five points as Shay Smith caught a short pass from quarterback Kyle Abel and sprinted 77 yards for a touchdown.
The Tornadoes dominated the second half, outscoring Canfield 34-0.
“At halftime, we weren’t panicked — we were a little bit disappointed at the way we were playing defense,” Ifft admitted. “The thought process was we needed to get a couple of stops because we felt pretty comfortable offensively. That’s kind of what transpired.”
Dover brings a potent passing offense — Abel completed 22-of-32 passes for 419 yards against the Cardinals in his first varsity start.
Ifft said the Tornadoes, in the second half, wore down several of the Cards who were playing both ways. They won’t have that luxury against Fitch (3-0).
Ifft doesn’t care — he expects his team to be tested.
“Mahoning County football [means] hard-nosed, play-every-down-hard football,” Ifft said.
That Fitch, Hubbard, Crestview and Western Reserve are unbeaten and state-ranked is no surprise. Also unbeaten are South Range, Struthers and Brookfield.
At least two of those unbeatens will taste defeat tonight as Struthers travels to Brookfield and South Range welcomes Crestview in the biggest Inter Tri-County League Tier One game of the season.
Last week, South Range overcame a 21-9 halftime deficit to stun Garfield Heights Trinity, 38-28, at Bedford’s Bearcat Stadium. Crestview won a shootout against Liberty, 34-26.
Crestview hasn’t lost a league game since 2009 (Mineral Ridge, 15-13).
All three showdowns should be fun to watch.