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A quick look back at football season

The Ohio high school football season came to an official end this past weekend with the crowning of seven state champions.

The season didn’t end on a winning note for the Mahoning Valley, as Springfield’s historic run was halted in a 48-14 loss to Anna in the Division VI state title game. After winning 14 consecutive games — most in convincing fashion — the Tigers’ storybook season ended at the hands of the powerful Midwest Athletic Conference.

Nonetheless, Springfield became the 15th area school to reach a state title game, and in the process the players and coaches created a lifetime of memories for themselves and their community.

Springfield’s run capped a 2019 season which was full of twists and turns for a number of area teams.

Certainly few fans would have guessed that Poland would win a regional title after the Bulldogs began their season 1-2. Yet after losing back-to-back games to Boardman and Howland, the ‘Dogs reeled off 10 straight wins to advance to the Division IV state semifinals.

Girard and McDonald were expected by many to be in rebuilding mode following their banner seasons in 2018. Instead, both the Indians and Blue Devils found their way to the postseason.

Niles finished 7-3, its best showing since 2012. Champion (7-3) put together its longest winning streak in over two decades. Brookfield quietly logged the best regular-season record (8-2) among all Trumbull County schools.

Back in Mahoning County, Division V South Range proved that it can indeed compete with the bigger schools of the Northeast-8 Conference. Western Reserve coach Andy Hake, in his 11th season with the Blue Devils, reached the 100-win plateau quicker than any coach in Mahoning Valley history.

Perennial playoff contenders such as Cardinal Mooney, Canfield and Austintown Fitch all failed to reach the postseason.

In its inaugural season of play, the NE-8 Conference sent five teams to the playoffs. If first impressions are lasting ones, the current makeup of the NE-8 appears to be that of a well-balanced and potentially-stable league. Balance and stability would both be a welcome relief to an otherwise ever-changing landscape when it comes to area league affiliation.

In all, 12 area schools reached the playoffs. Mahoning Valley schools went 4-10 in the first two rounds in games not involving a pair of area schools. All 10 losses came at the hands of public schools.

This suggests that our area as a whole is still playing catch-up to other regions of the state. It also suggests that both open enrollment and competitive balance is equaling whatever perceived imbalances may have existed on the playing field.

On the flip side, the success achieved by Poland and Springfield suggest that the Mahoning Valley still very much has a football presence on the statewide level.

In fact, the 2020 season already promises to offer up plenty of intriguing storylines.

Garrettsville Garfield went 9-2 this past season with a starting lineup of underclassmen. The G-Men should be a force to be reckoned with next fall. Warren John F. Kennedy will return a wealth of talent, including All-Ohio first-team linebacker Cam Hollobaugh and All-Ohio special mention Jesse Likens.

Niles brings back a handful of third-year starters in what will be Jim Parry’s third season at the helm. McDonald loses just four seniors. Springfield returns its field general in quarterback Beau Brungard, who is just a sophomore.

Changes will be noticed on at least a few sidelines. Austintown Fitch, Lowellville and Newton Falls are in the process of hiring coaches. Notable Fitch applicants include Solon assistant coach Matt Richardson, former Ursuline coach Jim Vivo and Hake. The Lowellville applicant list includes the likes of Mark Assion (former Jackson-Milton head coach), John Bayuk (current Struthers assistant coach) and Bill Bohren (veteran head coach).

If the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association gets its way, changes will also soon be made with the current playoff format. The OHSFCA recently submitted a proposal to expand the postseason from eight to 12 teams for each region. Under the proposal, the top four seeds would receive a first-week bye, and the playoffs would be expanded to six weeks.

Canfield, Niles, Mooney, Champion and Lowellville would have qualified for the playoffs this year under the proposed format.

Though the proposal appears to have the full backing of the OHSFCA, area coaches have expressed mixed feelings regarding expansion.

For now, it’s time to close the books on the 2019 season and move on to winter sports.

Then again, it’s never too early to look ahead. The 2020 campaign kicks off 263 days from today.