July 24, 2009

GWOC: Playoff Contenders

The fight for one of the eight playoff spots in the Southwest Region for Division I is a fierce competition and leaves little margin for error.

The Greater Western Ohio Conference (GWOC) forged its way into four of those bracket slots in 2008. That was quite a feat and an immense statement made by the conference.

This season, the level of play will be intensely elevated in Division I because of the depth of quality programs throughout the region.

The league's Central Division saw its top four squads - Northmont, Centerville, Fairmont and Wayne - make it into the postseason.

Toss in Springfield, which competes for a playoff berth in Region 3, and this arguably the toughest conference in Southwest Ohio.

There are so many teams ready to pounce on their opportunity for a game in Week 11, including two GWOC South teams Lebanon and Springboro.

Let's take a look at the league's potential playoff teams in Division I, Region 4:

NORTHMONT (8-4, 5-0)
One thing about head coach Lance Schneider and his Northmont football program it doesn't rebuild it reloads. They do not back down from and any opponent and their schedule can attest to that. The Thunderbolts start off with games against Lakota West and St. Ignatius.

The defense backfield is sensational with three three-year starters in Quintin Cooper, Ethan Zoellner and Xavier Johnson. Cooper picked off six passes for 103 IntRetYds and a score in '08.

The linebacker corps has to be replaced, but coach Schneider is confident that sophomores Kaleb Ringer and Jeremy Campbell can step in and fill the voids. Junior Chavez Leath anchors the defensive line.

Standing at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, junior receiver Josh McClain is ready to show he has the tools to play at the next level.

"He will probably be the main part of our offense" Schneider said.

Getting the ball in his hands will be quarterbacks Robert Sakosky and Tyler Kerlin. They will split time as Sakosky is a better passer and Kerlin is a better runner.

The T'Bolts will have to replace four of five offensive linemen though and that is going to be one area that will need to be watched.

Northmont should make the postseason again, but it all depends on how fast they learn to play as a team. We know this, the future is bright deep and talented.


CENTERVILLE (7-4, 3-2)
It won't be until week three when the Elks take on Moeller that we will find out if they are post-season material or material.

Centerville has depth, but needs to fill huge voids with some unproven players. Those glaring weaknesses are on the offensive side of the ball at the skills positions.

Senior Nick Miller returns at running back where he ran for 810 yards and six scores as a junior.

Classmate Kyle Torpey, the team's leading receiver, will be asked to help Miller provide leadership on that side of the ball.

Centerville will stop the run and run it down their opponent's throats on offense.

This team will have to replace a very opportunistic defensive line that had an uncanny knack for making stops.

The Elks have a chance to really build some momentum before they get into league play. It's possible that they could be 6-1 heading into the final three tilts at Northmont, at Wayne and against Fairmont. They could have a shot at controlling their own destiny by then.


FAIRMMONT (7-4, 3-2)
Six of the Firebirds last eight games were decided by nine points or less a year ago. They won four of those games and lost the other two to Northmont by one and nine points respectively. Fairmont looks to have arrived.

The Firebirds lose more than any other team on this list of contenders. Their schedule will have to make inexperienced players grow up in a hurry with tilts right off the bat against Alter, Lakota West and Lebanon.

The back end has Wayne, Springfield, Northmont and Centerville on it. This squad's mental toughness and endurance are going to be tested early and often.

Wide receiver Brendon Cunningham is a rising star. The senior finished last season by catching 45 balls for 782 yards and five touchdowns over the last seven outings. He had four games of 105 or more yards receiving and failed to get at least 80 yards just once in that span.

Cody Tangeman leads a Firebirds' defense that allowed just 13 points per game last season. The senior had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned on a score.


WAYNE (8-4, 2-3)
The return of junior quarterback Braxton Miller shoots rays of optimism throughout the Wayne football community. The Warriors were 5-0 last season before he went down to injury in Week Six.

Look for senior Shawn Whitehurst to have a breakout season. He should signs of greatness as a junior when he was playing wide receiver with Miller in the lineup.

The defense is led by college prospects defensive linemen Terry Talbott, defensive back Terrance Talbott and linebacker Josh Harrison. They unit ceded just 17 points per contest in '08.

Wayne has a tough schedule. The non-conference slate includes Princeton, Canton McKinley, Glenville and Troy. One thing is for sure the Harbin points are there for the taking.


SPRINGBORO (7-3, 4-0)
After losing their first three contests, the Panthers reeled off seven straight wins to end last season.

Running back Antoin Campbell is the GWOC South's reigning Athlete of the Year. The senior had 1,600 all-purpose yards (1,015 rushing) and 14 total touchdowns on his way to the honors. Classmate Taylor Franz also ran 697 yards and five scores.

The defense returns many vital cogs from a team that gave up just 15.9 points per game.

During the Panthers' current winning streak the team has given up just 54 points in seven outings.


LEBANON (7-3, 3-1)
This should be an explosive team on offense as they return their top skilled position players. Putting points on the board will not be a problem.

The Warriors boast of one the region's top quarterback-wide receiver combos.

Senior Dusty Isaacs threw for 1,673 yards and 11 touchdowns and added four more scores on the ground.

Classmate Chase Cochran caught 45 balls for 1,005 yards while making 10 trips to the end zone.

Trey Bonny wlll get his shot at being the team's full-time ball carrier.

The Warriors will attack the ball on defense. They had 24 sacks and created 19 turnovers last year.

Seniors Elias Sayre and Jake Gilbert are the leaders on the league-s top returning scoring defense, having allowed just 13.8 points per game in '08.



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