Would the capital city embrace it like Massillon and Canton in Stark County in the past? Would the thousands of empty seats in Ohio Stadium make it seem like a dud?
On the other hand, there are plenty of good reasons for the event to return to the capital city. It’s located in the center of the state, easing travel to start, while the chance for 14 teams in seven division to play in one of the iconic venues in sport – Ohio Stadium – is a major drawing card.
“It’s going to be a great experience for not just our players and our coaches but for our whole community,” said Norwalk St. Paul coach John Livengood, whose team will take part in Saturday’s Division VII game. “The opportunity to play in Ohio Stadium is going to be something special. Our people are really going to enjoy that atmosphere. We love playing in Massillon and Canton as well … but I think the opportunity to play in a venue like Ohio Stadium is going to be something awesome so we’re really looking forward to it.”
That message has been echoed from supporters ranging from OSU great Paul Warfield to the legendary Archie Griffin.
"For the longest time, I've thought the right place for the Ohio high school football championships belonged right here in Columbus," Griffin said. "That in itself made me want to be involved with that. Columbus is centrally located. I've always felt that schools more south of Columbus were at a disadvantage when it came to the state championships, having to go that far to travel to play those games.
"That's no knock on Massillon or Canton because they always did a great job, but when you think of Ohio football, you think of Ohio Stadium."
The games start tonight with the Division III title game between The Plains Athens and Toledo Central Catholic. Divisions II, VI and IV will follow tomorrow with I, V and VII on Saturday, with all games on SportsTime Ohio.
Division III: The Plains Athens (14-0) vs. Toledo Central Catholic (12-2)
Thursday, December 4, 7:30 p.m.
How They Got Here
Burrow kept on dazzling in the postseason, leading The Plains Athens to a come-from-behind 34-31 victory over two-time defending state champ Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The Irish were ahead 17-7 at halftime and led 31-21 after quarterback Dom Davis ran in from 14 yards out with 7:56 left in the fourth quarter. But the defense couldn’t stop the powerful Bulldogs offense from marching down the field twice for the comeback.
It took Athens 65 seconds to score on its first series after Davis’ touchdown and, after a stop by its defense, Burrow directed a 12-play, 78-yard drive that provided the winning points.
The Irish threw an interception with under thirty seconds to go to end its chances of a three-peat.
Toledo Central Catholic held on to beat Trotwood-Madison for a spot in its second state final in three years. Central led 10-0 at halftime and was able to fend off the Rams late to win, 17-14.
The Rams scored their first points on a 25-yard touchdown run with 6:51 left in the third quarter, but the Irish answered right back with a 90-yard rush from quarterback Marcus Winters for the winning score with 5:57 left in the third. – Kane Anderson
The Plains Athens Bulldogs
AP rank: 2
OHSAA seed: No. 4, Region 9
First State final appearance, 0 titles
Fifth year in playoffs (8-4)
Total school state championships: 0
Athens is 14 points away from breaking state record for points scored in a season. The current record held by Clarksville Clinton-Massie at 802 points from 2012 (15 games).
Burrow has completed 223 of 301 passes for 3,967 yards and 57 touchdowns and one single interception.
Playoff Road (first round to semis)
41-20, Dresden Tri-Valley
52-20, Columbus DeSales
34-31, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary
Head coach Ryan Adams: “It’s an unprecedented journey for the Bulldogs. We’ve had a lot of playoff success here the last two years, but prior to four years ago, we’d only had one other playoff run back in 1990, so this group of seniors has helped spark an awful lot of success for the program, and each year they’ve taken us to an unprecedented level. Joe Burrow is a kid that I’ve had the pleasure of being around since the seventh grade. Joe is a product of our town and our program, and back in the seventh grade when I had him in phys ed, he was just such a fierce competitor. He gets along with all walks of life. Being a college town, we get a mix of different kids, and he’s able to get the best of all the people around him.”
Toledo Central Catholic Fighting Irish
AP rank: 8
OHSAA seed: No. 1, Region 8
Third state final appearance, two titles (2012, 2005)
16th year in playoffs (20-13)
Total school state championships: 4
Winters rushed 14 times for 114 yards including a 90-yard touchdown run in its 17-14 victory over Trotwood-Madison in the state semifinals. Winters now has 1,065 rushing yards on the year, joining Central Catholic’s other two 1,000-yard rushers. Michael Warren has 2,049 yards and Tre’Von Wade has 1,667.
Playoff Road (first round to semis)
70-48, Rocky River
Head coach Greg Dempsey: “On defense, we were replacing a lot of guys off last year’s defense, and we were 1-2 and lost a couple of games to some very good football teams. People were really questioning the defense, but we knew all along it was going to be a process and the defense was going to get better, and we’ve seen that. I think our front and our linebackers have been a big source of strength for us. They’ve been a big part of our getting better, making game-changing plays.”
All-session ticket packages for the state championship games in Ohio Stadium are available from the Greater Columbus Sports Commission (www.ColumbusSports.org) and www.TicketMaster.com. A $105 all-session ticket package includes a ticket to all seven games in a chair-back seat and access to the Huntington Club in the stadium between games. An $84 all-session ticket is available without a chair back or access between games. Single game tickets are available at the participating schools, at www.TicketMaster.com, and are also available at Gate 5 of Ohio Stadium.