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Let’s do it again

Poland, Struthers meet in playoffs one week later

Staff file photo / Brian Yauger Poland’s sophomore quarterback Jack Fulton (15) avoids a Howland defender during a game in September. Fulton and the Bulldogs play Struthers on Saturday night in a first-round playoff game after the teams met last week in the regular-season finale.

Poland and Struthers are faced with the unusual high school football circumstance of squaring off in back-to-back weeks.

Bulldogs coach Ryan Williams is faced with the most unusual circumstance of experiencing the back-to-back scenario for a second time.

Williams was an assistant coach at Cardinal Mooney in 1995 when the Cardinals and Ursuline met in the regular season finale. Mooney won and, a week later, the rivals met again in a first-round playoff game at Austintown Fitch. Mooney also won the playoff game.

On Saturday, Williams’ Bulldogs will host a Struthers team that they defeated at home a week ago, 14-12.

“It’s an interesting situation, it really becomes a chess match at this point,” said Williams of the rematch with Struthers. “You try to figure out what (Struthers) is going to do differently, you try to figure out how to adjust to their adjustments and they are studying the same things.

“It’s a bit strange because all week we were watching films on their last game, and at the same time we’re watching ourselves. So you’re analyzing your opponent and your own team at the same time. I think in the end you just have to go out and do what you do best. You don’t want to outsmart yourself. You do what got you here.”

Former Mooney coach Don Bucci, who coached the Cardinals to back-to-back wins against Ursuline in ’95, doesn’t believe Poland’s win last week will factor into Saturday’s outcome.

“I’m sure Poland feels good about itself because it won last week, but Struthers was right there in the game and you have the revenge factor,” Bucci said. “You have two quality teams so it just comes down to execution. I know that the week after we beat Ursuline, I was nervous as heck to have to play them again.”

Bucci’s biggest memory of the rematch?

“We played in Austintown, and it was probably the muddiest game I’ve ever been involved in as a coach,” Bucci said. “I remember the mud, and I remember we won.”

ROAD TRIP

Among all area qualifiers, McDonald will make the longest first-round trip. The Blue Devils must make a two-hour, 120-mile trek to Lucas. The Devils (6-4) finished fifth in Division VII, region 25 while the Cubs (8-2) finished fourth.

“Obviously, this isn’t the best case scenario for any coach, but it is what it is and we’re just excited to be able to make the trip because it means we’re playing in week eleven,” McDonald coach Dan Williams said. “From a travel standpoint, we got the worst draw in our region. But we’re taking a charter bus. The game is on Saturday which doesn’t affect the school day routine. We’ll be okay.”

Williams noted that the only noticeable adjustments will be a slightly earlier arrival time. The players will also ride to the game in street clothes and change into their uniforms at the game site.

“With such a long ride, we want them to be comfortable on the way there,” Williams said. “We also want to allow for a little extra time to unwind and stretch once we get to Lucas.”

In 2000, McDonald finished fifth in the region and made a 150-mile trek to Gibsonburg for a first-round game. The Blue Devils beat the Golden Bears 28-10.

“We were a pretty big underdog in that game, no one was really giving us a chance,”Williams said. “We jumped on them early, played well and came away with a big win.”

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

When John F. Kennedy coach Jeff Bayuk leads his Eagles into the first round of the playoffs at Independence, son John won’t be among those in attendance. In fact, if John has his way, dad will experience a long playoff run and he won’t be there for any of it.

JFK plays Saturday, the same night Struthers plays at Poland. John is the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.

“I’ve been lucky in that Kennedy plays a lot of its home games on Saturday, so I get to see dad a few times during the season,” John said. “I was able to be there a few weeks back when he won his 200th game. The luck of the draw put both of us playing on Saturdays in the postseason.

“It’s a nice problem to have. Hopefully we face the same problem again next week.”

While father and son won’t get to see one another Saturday, they will touch base.

“I’m sure as soon as our game ends, I’ll check my phone to see how he did,” John said. “We almost always talk after games on Friday nights. I’ll phone him to pick his brain, he’ll do the same to me.”

“During the football season, we talk almost exclusively football. Once the season ends its just typical father-son talk, but right now it’s all football.”

TICKET UPDATE

Beginning in the second round of the playoffs, participating schools will not be provided tickets for presale. Instead, presale tickets will be sold exclusively online at the OHSAA website (ohsaa.org/tickets). Online presale ticket prices are $8, however, there is also a $1.51 processing fee per ticket. Tickets sold at the gate on the day of the game will cost $9.

Participating schools still receive $1 for each presale ticket sold online.