HUBER HEIGHTS — The Wayne Warriors (6-2, 2-1) welcome the Springfield Wildcats (6-2, 1-1) to their Senior Night for a GWOC National East showdown Friday with possible playoff implications.
According to Joe Eitel’s unofficial Region 3 rankings, Wayne controls its own playoff destiny at fourth in the region and Springfield is the last one in and needs help at eighth in the region. Wayne has been in playoff mode since the loss to Centerville and has shown that it does not back down from any challenge. Springfield’s only two losses are to Northmont and Centerville. In both games the Wildcats were held to under 14 points.
Wayne is coming off of an emotional 35-28 win that had an ending that will go down in Warrior history. Wayne found itself in a dogfight against a scrappy Fairmont Firebird squad and pulled it out with its own version of an Immaculate Reception by L’Christian Smith with 14 seconds left in the game. Coach Minton called it “divine intervention” Friday night.
Springfield totally dismantled the Beavercreek Beavers last week by a score of 64-28. Springfield raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead, but Beavercreek opened the second half with 14 unanswered points to draw within 10 points. That’s as close as Beavercreek would get as Springfield’s athleticism was just too much to handle.
When Springfield has the ball
Springfield’s offense (#7 in GWOC) is led by the GWOC’s number 5 passer, senior Leonard Taylor. Taylor has completed 108 of the 186 passes thrown for a 58.1% completion percentage and 1486 yards. He has 8 rushing touchdowns and 14 passing touchdowns to go with 5 interceptions.
Taylor’s main target is senior wideout Caleb Johnson, who is the #4 receiver in GWOC with 47 catches for 722 yards. There is no doubt that Johnson is Taylor’s primary target because the next two receivers’ combined catches don’t equal Johnsons 47. Junior Michael Brown-Stephens has 19 catches and sophomore Larry Stephens has 17.
Springfield’s running game (#11 in GWOC) is led by sophomore running back Tavion Smoot who has rolled 722 yards on 91 carries. However the dual threat of Leonard Taylor the main concern in this offense, especially in the red zone where he has 8 rushing touchdowns. Taylor can be hard to bring down, so keeping him contained will be priority.
Wayne has been improving on its run defense. The big plays given up on the ground this season have mostly been against Wing-T type ball control offenses. Springfield does not employ a ball control offense. Wayne has done a good job in pass coverage over the last three weeks. Six foot, 240 lb. Leonard Taylor also plays defensive end, so his play tends to diminish over the course of the game.
When Wayne has the ball
Wayne’s offense, especially the offensive line is maturing before our eyes. Wayne’s running game is starting to put up better numbers and Rashad McKee isn’t getting harassed as much as he has earlier in the season. The cohesion of the line is just in time for a playoff run. In the playoffs winning the trenches is a much and Wayne’s line is starting to win battles. One of the reasons the offensive line has done better is Nate Collins’ move from defensive line to offensive line.
Rashad McKee has matured as a passer to the point that the coaching staff allows him to change plays at the line according to what he sees. His physical skills are improving as well. McKee’s running skills are just as dangerous to a defense as his passing skills. Because he is a threat to run, it makes it tough for defenses to use certain types of coverage and puts pressure on the front seven of the defense. This may be the key for cracking the Wildcat defense on Friday.
The Wildcat defense (#7 in the GWOC and #6 against the run) is anchored by Senior ILB Cameron Hoelscher who leads team in tackles with 88 and 3 sacks. Springfield’s defense is thirteenth against the pass, but don’t let that number fool you. Springfield’s strength isn’t its pass rush, but its coverage team, but it has 14 interceptions on the year and half of them are from two players, Sophomore DB Kendrick Holt (4), senior DB Quincy Scott (3).
Wayne’s kicking game is in good hands. Garrett Russell has improved in every aspect of his kicking and punting. He was new to placekicking last year and new to punting this year, but Russell has mastered every challenge. In the playoffs the kicking game can be difference between winning or losing a game and Wayne’s kicking game is good enough to win some.
Springfield’s kicking game has been feast or famine sometimes. Wildcat kicker, junior Braeden Carey has missed 7 of his 32 extra points, but he has hit two of three field goals, one was a 42 yarder.
One defense, the Warriors will want to contain Leonard Taylor and make sure Caleb Johnson doesn’t beat them. On offense, McKee should be able to make plays with his feet. Also, L’Christian Smith will draw Springfield’s attention, so Steven Victoria and Austin Mullins should have opportunities underneath.
Even though no extra incentive is needed for the game, Wayne doesn’t want this to be its last home game. Not only is this game what is considered a backyard brawl, this game will have a playoff atmosphere. Anybody wanting to get into playoff fever will want to get to this game. From here on out its playoff football for the Wayne Warriors.
Reach Robert Williamson by email: RobertWilliamsonII@hotmail.com