Traditional backyard adversaries battle again

Now comes the final week of the regular football season when rivalries are renewed and history is perpetuated.


Alumni who can’t attend every game make sure this is the one they get to.

Every school has one — that big rival that, at some point, has delivered a staggering loss that ruined a season, or been the upset victim that turned around a season.

It’s Week 10 of the high school football season, or Rivalry Week as we like to call it.

There are a lot of ’em to choose from. Canfield and Poland has league championship and postseason implications riding on the outcome — again.

Warren JFK and Howland doesn’t have a distinct geographical boundary to their rivalry, so it could be the quarterback from one school could live on the same street as the defensive tackle from the other. That brings a whole new meaning to the term “block party.”

Some have been around almost as long as the game itself. Struthers and Campbell Memorial started their little fall get-togethers before the Great Depression. They’ve played every year since 1925, except for 1933, when a post-game row broke out the year before.

The Red Devils dominated the first 35 years of the series, winning 26 games, with one ending in a tie.

The Wildcats won 14 of the next 21 games — with another tie — and since 1982 the series is knotted at 11-11.

Here’s a look at the other rivalries, with thoughts of the coaches interspersed:

Poland vs. Canfield

Since 1952, Poland leads the series 33-21-2, and since the two schools helped form the Mahoning Valley Conference in 1973, the Bulldogs have won 19 of 35 meetings, with one tie. Canfield, though, has won six of the last eight games in the rivalry, and many times league titles and playoff berths have been on the line.

This year is no different. Canfield has already clinched a tie for the All-American Conference championship, but a Poland win would create a three-way tie (with Howland) for first place.

“It’d be nice for the kids to share the league title but we’re certainly glad that we have a chance to win that thing outright,” said Canfield coach Mike Pavlansky, whose father, Dave, was a coaching legend at Poland.

“We need a great effort by our kids. When you’re playing your rivalry game, you’re gonna have to be at your best if you want to have a chance to win.”

The Cardinals started the season 1-2 but have since won six straight games and can get a playoff berth with a win Friday night.

“It’s nice, but we’re not looking back,” Pavlansky said of the streak. “If we do that now, we’re gonna get whacked on Friday night.

“Certainly, when the season’s over, we’ll sit down and look at what we accomplished. For now, our whole focus is on Friday night. We’re playing a very good Poland football team. I’ve always felt if we’re good enough to win that game, we’re probably good enough to win the league title and move on to the playoffs. This year is no different.”

Poland coach Mark Brungard, who played in a pretty good high school rivalry when he competed for Springfield against South Range, says a competitive rivalry is always best.

“What makes a game a rivalry is when two real competitive teams have won their share of games and close games, and are similar communities. What makes for a good rivalry is that you have to have some balance in this game or it can lose the luster. Canfield has won the last four so we have to begin taking care of business.”

Boardman vs. Fitch

No matter the enrollments of these schools this has been a big rivalry.

Now the two largest high schools in Mahoning County, the Falcons, who lead the series 31-29-1, and Spartans square off for the 62nd time on the artificial surface at Falcon Stadium.

Fitch has won five of the last six games in this series, with Boardman’s only win coming last year.

“It’s a big rivalry game, no question about it,” said Fitch coach Phil Annarella, who’s also coached in the Rayen-South and Warren Harding-Warren Western Reserve rivalries.

“Boardman has another outstanding team and we’ll certainly have our hands full. We’ve got to play a great game to beat them. We’ve got to rebound from last week. We’re coming off a tough loss. Hopefully we do that.”

Both teams have had disappointing second halves of the season but that’s the thing about a rivalry in Week 10 — win that one and it can be a springboard to a great offseason.

“Absolutely. That’s certainly something I know [Boardman] Coach [D.J.] Ogilvie is saying to his team and we’re certainly saying it to ours,” said Annarella. “And of course, we’re hoping to send our seniors out with a big victory.

“I do think we made strides from last year, but it’s certainly not the strides we’d liked to have made,” said Annarella. “I think we have been competitive in most games we’ve played and I don’t think we could say that last year.

Ogilvie finally got his first win over the Falcons after three losses. He knows the importance of winning the rivalry game.

“The biggest thing is we have a history being in the [Steel Valley Conference]. We are the only Mahoning County teams in the Federal League. We are right next to each other. We both are in Division I and we have a lot of history of being successful, and both are meaningful.”

Like the Falcons, Boardman has struggled since Week 5, losing four straight games in the Federal League.

“Each game in the fourth quarter we have had the lead or could have taken the lead against three of the four teams who will be in the playoffs,” he said. “Our level of competition has increased as the season progressed, and we have been in the game to the end, and one play changed the outcome of the game.

“[The Falcons] have some really talented players. We saw them in Week 1 against Chaney. I see a big improvement from last year to this year.”

Girard vs. Liberty

This one isn’t for a league title — Liberty wrapped up the AAC White Tier title two weeks ago when the Leopards beat Hubbard, and Girard suffered its first loss of the season last week in its AAC Blue showdown at LaBrae.

“Our kids have improved each week, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for,” said Girard coach Bud McSuley. “We suffered a tough loss Friday. We were playing for a league title and we didn’t achieve that goal.

“However, there are a lot of teams who would love to be 8-1 right now, and we feel as though we still have a lot to play for.”

The Indians must win Friday to have a shot at the playoffs, and even then it’s not a guarantee.

“Every game this season has been a big game for us, so mentally we’ll be prepared for Liberty,” said McSuley. “It’s a backyard rivalry, and we’re still battling for the playoffs, so nothing needs to be said to get these kids up for this game. Against Liberty, they’d be ready if both teams were 1-8 let alone 8-1.”

The Leopards feature some Big Ten talent like running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who’s been among the leading rushers in the area since the first week.

“Liberty is an extremely talented and well-coached team that will pose a lot of challenges,” said McSuley. “They have tremendous team speed and they tackle as well as any team we have faced all year. Somehow we have to find a way to control their skilled players when we’re on defense, and offensively we have to protect the football.”

Like his counterpart at Girard, Liberty coach Ed Whittaker had to pick up his troops from their first loss of the season, 10-6 to Howland.

“We knew right away that we had no time to dwell on last week’s loss,” said Whittaker. “When we came in Saturday, we all assumed some bit of responsibility for the setback, then we let it go. One of our goals is to learn from every game, and the loss to Howland showed us some areas where we had to work on.”

Whittaker’s message to his team was simple — get back that winning attitude.

“We never want to be content,” he said. “We want to be hungry, and we walked away from the Howland game hungry to get back on the winning track. That was a playoff atmosphere against a playoff caliber team, and though we would have preferred to come out on top, it was a learning experience.

“As far as we’re concerned, the playoffs don’t begin until next week, and we’re not looking ahead to that — especially with Girard as our next opponent. Girard-Liberty is a great rivalry for both communities, and that is the only thing on our minds right now.”

Whittaker likes what he’s seen of the Indians.

“As always, Girard is a well-coached team that is fundamentally sound in all phases of the game,” he said. “They play smart, aggressive defense and offensively they are led by a talented young quarterback [Dan Graziano] and an experienced running back [Kyle Stadelmyer] who is as good as they get. This is very similar to the Girard teams we have seen in the past. This will be a battle from start to finish.”

Girard won last year’s game, 31-30, ending a four-game winning streak by the Leopards.

Howland vs. JFK

Howland’s Dick Angle is entering his 11th year as coach and will experience his ninth Kennedy game Friday.

“This game is important because it’s the only game we get to play this week,” Angle said.

Kennedy enters the game with a 3-6 record while Howland is 6-3 and a poised for a postseason appearance. Despite Kennedy’s record, Angle said he knows the Eagles will be ready.

“[Kennedy coach Tony] Napolet is the dean of football in Trumbull County, and maybe even in the entire Mahoning Valley,” Angle said. “When you play him, you had better be ready or he’ll pin your ears back.”

The teams didn’t play the last two years, but that only makes this week’s game that much more anticipated.

“The proximity of the schools; we’re very close together,” said Napolet. “The kids know each other very well, and it’s been a rivalry, well, geez, I can remember playing them in 1970, my first year here. In fact, we played in Girard in the rain. We got lucky and won, 6-0.

“From that point on it’s been like the Hatfields and the McCoys. You forget records, you forget who’s who, and the adrenaline flows extremely high that particular night on both sides of the field.

Well said. Strap on the helmets a little tighter, boys. It’s going to be a fun night.

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