Gridiron Notebook: Heights Tigers Face Huge Test
The chatter among the coaches and players at Cleveland Heights, Beachwood and Shaker Heights
The playoffs may start a few weeks early for Cleveland Heights.
The Tigers (6-1) square off against Warren G. Harding (6-1) Friday night at 7 p.m. in Warren. The Raiders are 4-0 in the Lake Erie League with Cleveland Heights a game back. A win revives the chance that the Tigers could win the league outright with a little help. But more importantly, the Tigers and Raiders are currently positioned in the final two playoff spots for Division I, Region I.
After losing to Euclid, the Tigers cannot afford another misstep.
“Last week was more about rebounding from (our poor performance against Euclid) and regaining focus,” Tigers coach Jeff Rotsky said. “Every game now our backs are against the wall. If we want an opportunity to play in the postseason we have to win every ballgame.
Drew Pasteur’s rankings at fantastic50.net — a math professor at The College of Wooster who simulates the OHSAA’s points system 10,000 times to calculate a team’s odds of making the playoffs — echo Rotsky’s belief. The Tigers have a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs should they win their remaining three games. Stumble just once, and their chances drop to 16 percent.
None is more important than this week, because with Lorain (2-5) and Shaw (3-4) remaining on the schedule, this is the Tigers’ best remaining opponent (record wise), giving the victor a tone of computer points and putting the loser in a bad spot. Warren G. Harding’s chances drop to 85 percent should it fail to reach nine games. Like the Tigers, the Raiders control their own destiny.
Warren G. Harding’s offense is led by two Division I commits — receiver Jalyn Powell and 5-foot-11, 220 pound running back LeShun Daniels. Daniels is the focal point in their power rushing attack. Powell is committed to Michigan State and Daniels to Boston College.
“They run the ball very, very well,” Rotsky said. “They want to line up and try and pound you. That we can’t let happen. We have to line up and play very, very physical. We have to fly to the ball with 11 people all the time. That’s a critical part of our defense.
“On the other side, we have to let our skill guys make the plays we’ve been playing all year. We’re looking forward to playing on turf because of our speed.”
Cleveland Heights rebounded from the loss to Euclid — which ended a string of 14-straight regular season victories — with a 47-8 win over Warrensville Heights (1-6). Karvele Booker-Hunt scored two touchdowns.
“What was most important is that we had our best week of practice in a long time after the loss to Euclid,” Rotsky said. “Our practice will determine our fate the rest of the season. If we practice as aggressively as we did this last week, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
Shaker Heights Eyes Division Crown
The Northeast Ohio Conference’s Lake division is likely on the line Friday when Shaker Heights (6-1) heads to Brush (4-3) for a 7 p.m. kickoff. Shaker is 4-0 in the NOC, Brush 3-1, but the Arc’s loss came against Mayfield who plays in the River Division. The teams are 2-0 in the Lake Division.
But the Red Raiders have their sights on higher goals. Shaker sits ninth in the Division I, Region I computer point standings. Brush is also the best team — record wise — remaining on its schedule and will provided the biggest boost in the Red Raiders’ point total.
Pasteur’s projections give the Red Raiders at a 58 percent chance of qualifying for the playoffs if they get to nine wins, anything less drops Shaker Heights’ playoff chances to less than five percent. An added bonus is that the seventh and eighth teams in the region — Cleveland Heights and Warren G. Harding — face off this week.
“We just have to play our game, the same kind of discipline football we’ve played the last six weeks.” Shaker Heights coach Jarvis Gibson said. “We think we have some pretty good athletes and as long as we not get caught up in the emotion of the game we’ll be fine.”
Shaker Heights is coming off a 55-0 victory of division rival Valley Forge (1-6) where all aspects of the Red Raiders’ offense were clicking. Quarterback Jimmie Pope completed 11 of 19 passes (57.9 percent) for 234 yards and four touchdowns. Derek Burgess caught three of those for 92 yards and a score.
But the biggest relief was that none of Shaker Heights’ key players were seriously injured.
“We had a couple of key guys get injured and we sat them for the rest of the game,” Gibson said. “We found out that our reserves were able to maintain exactly what we’ve been doing.”
Defensive end Joe Henderson and running back Ramses Owens — who had 69 yards on 11 attempts — were the two players injured. Shaker Heights still managed a combined 131 yards without Owens — 77 of those coming from quarterbacks Pope and Brian Jones.
To account for Henderson’s loss, the Red Raiders brought Ja’Merez Bowen to the defensive tackle spot and slid starter Donovan Munger over to defensive end. The defense didn’t seem to miss a beat as Munger had four total tackles — three solo and one sack.
“That’s the one thing we’ve really been blessed with this year,” Gibson said. “Our guys on the bench are not really reserves, they’re just not the No. 1 guy.”
Beachwood In Familliar Spot
For the second-straight season, Beachwood finds itself at 6-1 with its only loss coming to rival Orange. And for the second-straight season, the Bison have three strong opponents remaining on their schedule: Cuyahoga Heights (6-1), Kirtland (7-0) and West Geauga, who is only 3-3 but plays in Division II.
Beachwood hopes it doesn’t wind up 6-4 again.
“We have a lot of guys back from last year’s team who know exactly what happened last year and are looking to turn that around,” Beachwood coach Ryan Williams said. “I told them, and they know it too, that it’s more of a mental than a physical thing. We match up with all of those teams.
“It comes down to the teams that make the most amount of plays in the end and last year, unfortunately, those teams made one more play than we did.”
Beachwood is currently fifth in Division IV, Region 13, the top eight make the Division IV playoffs. With two Division V schools combining for a 13-1 record — Kirtland is second and Cuyahoga Heights fourth in Division V, Region 17 — and a Division II school projected to finish at or around .500, the Bison will likely make the playoffs by winning two of the next three games.
Pasteur’s projections give the Bison a 99 percent chance at clinching a spot if they reach eight or more wins. However, failing to reach eight drops their odds to 36 percent.
“A lot of seniors played on that team that lost those three games,” Senior defensive end Noah Mitchell said. “We have the experience of playing in big games now and we’re a very close team. We all play together and we’re going to come out there and play our hardest to win those games.”
Beachwood hasn’t made the playoffs since 1989.
Cuyahoga Heights’ quarterback, Jordan Martin, is the focal point of the offense. For the Bison it will be critical to limit his ability, just like Mitchell did last week against Richmond Heights (2-5). Mitchell had 5.5 sacks and the team combined to sack quarterback Arthur Christian — who Williams compared to Michael Vick in being very difficult to tackle due to his speed — 12 times. Mitchell now has 15 sacks on the season.
“The defense has played far beyond expectations this year,” Williams said. “Adam Bickel, our defensive coordinator, always has the kids in position to make plays.”
The Bison will need that defense on Saturday. Kickoff time is 1 p.m. at Beachwood.