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Ed Puskas: Valley’s title hopes rest with five

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The fastest 10 weeks in sports has come and gone again.

As advertised, the high school football season was a blur. It seems like just last week I was driving around the tri-county area to shoot mugshots and collect information for the annual Blitz Preview.

In recent years, the playoffs have also gone fast for Mahoning Valley teams, which have entered and exited the second season more quickly than we’re used to seeing.

That trend continued in last weekend’s regional quarterfinals. After a area-record 18 teams made the playoffs in 2015, just 11 qualified this season and six of them were eliminated right out of the gate.

Now just five Mahoning Valley teams are still holding onto state championship dreams. Those dreams have been fleeting for our corner of the state in recent years.

No Mahoning Valley team has reached a state championship game since 2013, when Cardinal Mooney fell to Clarksville Clinton-Massie, 27-21, in the Division IV title game at Massillon’s Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.

The Cardinals also were the last Mahoning Valley team to win a state championship in football. That came in 2011 when they beat Sprinfield Shawnee, 21-14, in the Division III final at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.

It used to be that the Mahoning Valley was a regular participant in Ohio’s championship weekend. Cardinal Mooney and Ursuline have combined for 12 state titles. The Cardinals have won eight, including four since 2004, and Ursuline has won four, including three in a row from 2008-10.

Cardinal Mooney, in fact, remains tied with Maria Stein Marion Local and Newark Catholic for third among Ohio programs with the most titles. Cleveland St. Ignatius (11) and Cincinnati Moeller (9) are the most prolific winners in Ohio high school football history.

It wasn’t all that long ago that few teams in Ohio wanted to run into a Mahoning Valley team in the playoffs. Has this area slipped in football or does the lull of the last few years simply represent a cyclical aberration?

Is it something one — or more — of the this season’s remaining playoff teams can correct?

If you’re looking for answers here, I’m afraid my crystal ball is cracked.

That should have been evident given the events of Tuesday night. But let’s not digress too far into political punditry and stick to the topic at hand.

Warren Harding (10-1), Cardinal Mooney (8-2), LaBrae (8-3), Springfield (9-2) and Warren JFK (10-1) are now carrying the banner for the Mahoning Valley.

Harding and Chardon (11-0) meet Friday in aDivision II, Region 5 semifinal. It might just be the de facto regional final and one of the best matchups in the state.

Cardinal Mooney meets Chardon ND-CL (8-3) in a Division IV, Region 13 semifinal Friday at Niles.

Springfield bumps into state power Kirtland (10-1) on Friday at Austintown Fitch in a Division VI, Region 21 semifinal.

LaBrae and nearby Garrettsville Garfield (8-3) meet Saturday at Niles in a Division V, Region 17 semifinal.

And in another prime matchup, Warren JFK and Mogadore (10-1) collide Saturday in Salem.

There is plenty to like about our chances of getting multiple teams to Week 13. But it won’t be easy.

It hasn’t been for a while.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy