This weekend, 14 high school football teams from across Ohio will gather in Canton in search of a state championship. Despite strong seasons from several Suburbanite-area teams, none of those squads will be among that group.
Mogadore and Manchester, playing in Division VI and Division V, respectively, each reached the regional final level before falling and ending their campaigns two games shy of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
"The goal is always to play for a state championship, but we didn't quite reach that point this year," Mogadore head coach Matt Adorni said. "I’m extremely proud of where ended up … you start out in July with the goal of winning championships and we beat some very good teams that were still playing in week 12 or week 13 (playoffs) and we won the PTC title."
Winning the Portage Trail Conference County title was no small feat given the depth of good teams in the division. Along with Mogadore, PTC County members Rootstown and Valley Christian made the playoffs and Garrettsville narrowly missed out, while Crestwood (5-5) and Southeast (4-6) both were solid. The division had just one team end the regular season with a losing record.
Mogadore’s schedule was as strong top to bottom as it has been in years, with five playoff teams on the docket and a combined 98-46 record for the 13 foes the Wildcats (11-2) tangled with this fall. It was an early season win over one of those five playoff teams that Adorni pointed to as one of the best moments of the season for his team.
"It would probably be Elyria Catholic and then Meadowbrook, our bounce back from losing to Linsly (W.Va.) to beat a very good team that won its league and then to go on and beat a Meadowbrook team that had a great playoff run was really great."
Manchester had its own memorable moments in a season that came to an end with a 43-19 loss to Principals Athletic Conference rival Orrville, which then advanced to this weekend’s Division V state championship game.
The Panthers (9-4) received another stellar season from junior running back Ethan Wright, who seems destined to walk away from the program after next season with both a Division I college scholarship and a fistful of school records. Wright led all Suburbanite-area players with 2,574 rushing yards, 2,985 combined rushing and receiving yards and 40 total touchdowns.
His record-breaking second straight 2,000 yard season further cemented his status as a highly sought-after recruit and with offers from Akron, Toledo, Duke and Vanderbilt among others, his profile continues to rise.
It was an odd year at times for Manchester, which ran hot and cold, going from impressive wins to head-scratching defeats en route to the regional finals.
There was a late-added game against Pennsylvania foe Sharpsville, a contest that became official the week of the game, and a lackluster loss to Northwest that was followed by a slow start against Orrville in a regular-season game that saw the Panthers roar back with a 67-10 finishing burst for a 67-31 win.
After a combined margin of 91-14 in two playoff wins, the Panthers simply couldn’t keep their run going in the third round of the playoffs.
Both Mogadore and Manchester, which remain two of the most successful small-school programs in the area - but have only played 27 times in their stories histories - ended their year in rematch games. For the Wildcats, it was a third tussle with Region 21 power Kirtland in the past five seasons, all three going to Hornets’ way in postseason battles.
Manchester’s rematch was of the much more recent variety, coming one month after downing Orrville in the regular season.
Both teams found their respective endings hard to swallow even though they came in differing fashions. Mogadore battled back from an early deficit to tie Kirtland, only to see the Hornets punch in the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left in the contest for a 21-14 win.
Manchester’s regional final loss wasn’t as close and if you ask Adorni, perhaps the wider margin in a loss isn’t the worst thing.
"It's always more difficult to lose a close one. Sometimes you get blown out and you just tip your cap because they were a way better team," he said. "With us and Kirtland, it’s becoming a sort of rivalry, but with rivalries you like it to be more two-sided and these past few years, they’ve beaten us. They’re one of the best small-school programs in the state, but I know from their team and their fans, we’re earned a lot of respect and we were right there with them."
Last season’s playoff loss to Kirtland was also a one-score affair, so it appears that the gap between the two teams isn’t very large at the moment. Still, there is no way to totally eliminate the sting of a playoff loss regardless of whether it comes in the first round or the final round.
It means the end of the careers of seniors, many of whom will never play organized football again, and the last time together for a team that has lifted, sweated and trained together for months in search of a common goal.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB