Ohio Stadium is shuttered to Buckeye football until the spring game, but there is still a weekend festival of pigskin to go for the Old Gray Lady of the Olentangy.
Last year, the Ohio High School Athletic Association returned its seven state championship games to the capital city for the first time in more than two decades. Many miss the friendly faces and high school atmosphere of the previous site of Stark County, but having the chance to play in the Buckeye State’s monument to gridiron spectacle undoubtedly adds to the experience provided to the 14 teams who have made it this far. Last year, almost 60,000 fans went through the Horseshoe's gates to watch the best in the state.
This year’s finals will be held from today through Saturday, with one game tonight and three games apiece on Friday and Saturday. The matchups are set after teams staged semifinal matchups Nov. 27-28, trimming the 715 Ohio high schools that play football down to just a handful of squads.
There are some traditional powers and some upstarts among the teams that will get to play for a crown. BSB takes a look at how the teams – three of which hail from Mercer County, population 40,748, along the Indiana state line – that completed the journey to the Horseshoe fared in their semifinal matchups each day previewing the night's action.
Division III: Toledo Central Catholic (12-2) vs. Akron Hoban (13-1)
Thursday, December 3, 7:30 p.m.
How They Got Here
Hoban boasts a pair of future Buckeyes on the offensive side of the football in 2017 commitments Danny Clark and Todd Sibley. Clark has bounced back from a tough season a year ago at Massillon Washington while Sibley is one of the best running backs in the state. Senior wideout Jonah Morris is a Michigan State pledge as well.
The Knights earned a 33-21 win against Zanesville in their semifinal, with the biggest play a 99-yard pick-six in the third quarter by Tyler Gilchrist. Sibley also ran for a pair of touchdowns in the game, including an 81-yarder, while Clark threw for 151 yards.
It will be Hoban’s first state title game after semifinal appearances in 2008 and ‘02.
Central Catholic, meanwhile, will attempt to win its second consecutive title and its fourth in the past 11 years when it returns to Ohio Stadium. The Fighting Irish have an impressive offense led by Michael Warren, a 2017 commit to Kentucky, and Tre’Von Wade. Wade had two TD runs in the semifinal while Warren had another and ran for 183 yards, passing 2,400 yards on the season.
Toledo Central Catholic Fighting Irish
AP rank: 7
OHSAA seed: No. 2, Region 8
Third state final appearance, 3 titles (last in 2014)
17th year in playoffs (23-13)
TCC is the only team in state finals to play in an overtime game in 2015 playoffs, beating Cleveland Benedictine by a 31-30 score in 2OT in the regional final.
TCC beat the Associated Press poll champion, Cleveland Benedictine, in the regional final.
The Fighting Irish have 12 straight wins after starting season 0-2.
Playoff Road (first round to semis)
Central Catholic 37, Rocky River 23
Central Catholic 35, Clyde 25
Central Catholic 31, Cleveland Benedictine 30 (2OT)
Central Catholic 21, Trotwood-Madison 13
Head coach Greg Dempsey: “It’s awesome to get to do it in back-to-back years. I’m very proud of these kids after starting off 0-2. Now they’re going to Columbus to play for the state championship.”
Akron Archbishop Hoban
AP rank: 3
OHSAA seed: No. 1, Region 7
First state final appearance
11th year in playoffs (17-10)
Hoban is the only school in state finals that did not make the playoffs last year (last appearance: 2009).
The school opened in 1953 and had its first varsity football team in 1955.
The 13 wins for Hoban is most in a single season. Hoban is 24-10 in past three seasons after going 7-23 the previous three seasons. The 2002 team went 12-2. This is Hoban’s fifth season with 10 or more wins. Other 10-win teams were in 1998, 2001 & 2005.
The Kersh brothers, Dane and Grant, lived in England for four years due to their father’s job. They learned rugby in England and didn’t start playing football until they returned to the USA.
Hoban opened season with wins over Canton McKinley and Akron Buchtel. Hoban beat rival STVM twice this season. Knights won regular season game and then beat Irish in the first football playoff meeting between the two Catholic schools. Both games were at the University of Akron.
Playoff Road (first round to semis)
Akron Hoban 35, New Philadelphia 21
Akron Hoban 21, Louisville 14
Akron Hoban 24, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary 21
Akron Hoban 33, Zanesville 21
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 the gate at Ohio Stadium.