By Sam Torres
The short answer is that we don’t know much for sure. As it stands currently two Ashtabula area teams, the Conneaut Spartans and the Jefferson Falcons, have locked in their playoff spots acquiring enough points to finish no lower than 16th in their respective regions. Believe it or not, every other team in the county still remains in contention (although some have better chances than others). Let’s go through the paths and probability for each team,
Jefferson Falcons- The 5-2 Falcons have already punched their ticket into the week 11 dance and now find themselves fighting for that ultimate flex, a home game. With big wins this year over the Edgewood Warriors (4-3) and Harvey Red Raiders (4-3) continuing to yield the Falcons second-level points, Jefferson locked their playoff spot with an impressive win over the Hubbard Eagles (5-2). Jefferson’s losses come from the Girard Indians (5-2), who have had their playoff dream become a reality this year as well, and a loss to the Struthers Wildcats (2-4), who started the year off 0-4 before finding their way back to their brand of bruiser football. Jefferson is led by arguably the best quarterback in the area, Grant Hitchcock, whose athletic ability keeps defensive coordinators stressed throughout the whole game as he can seemingly beat defenses in the air or on the ground at will. Strong seasons from seniors Trent Hodge, at the wide receiver and linebacker position, and Wade Woodworth (who at the time of this article leads the county in tackles with over 60) make the Jefferson Falcons a formative foe for whoever pulls them in the first round.
Conneaut Spartans- The 5-2 Spartans are the second county team who locked their spot in the playoffs. Their season starts off with a disappointing 15-14 loss to crosstown rival, and neighboring school, Edgewood. After that game, the Spartans turned up the intensity and rattled off five consecutive wins over opponents Western Reserve, Columbiana, Corry PA, Cleveland Central Catholic, and arguably most impressive, the Rootstown Rovers who came into that Week 5 matchup 4-1. Conneaut’s second loss came in Week 7 to the Northeast Grapepickers in a 14-12 heartbreaker. This Spartan team is a run heavy team that will ride on the backs of their quiet storm senior running back, Zack Rice, who went into Week 7 with 95 carries for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rice remains the mainstay in the rushing attack but strong performances throughout the year by quarterback, Max Gleason, and running back, Wyatt Payne, have led to the Spartans totaling over 1,600 yards on the ground between the three of them. On the defensive side of the ball, Jaydon Anderson and Moses Schwartz have been a terror combining for 27 TFL’s and sacks. The playoff road is a bit more difficult for the Spartans as their schedule includes Pennsylvania teams that do not yield second-level points, which makes it even more impressive that they locked it up so early.
Lakeside Dragons- The 5-2 Dragons started their 2022 campaign with their best start in over ten years with wins over Brush, Madison, and Eastlake North. After injuries to key players J’shon Sanders, Malachi Matlock, and offensive lineman Randy Valeriano, the Dragons would lose to crosstown rival Geneva Eagles (5-2) as well as the Perry Pirates(5-2). Lakeside has found their way back on track with back to back wins over West Geauga and Chagrin Falls. While the current status of star running back J’Shon Sanders (who accounted for 496 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns) remains in question, the team has found success. Lakeside has truly embraced the concept of “next man up” with junior quarterback, Alex DiSalvitore, and junior wide receiver, Jimmy Timonere, taking on a larger role in a more pass-heavy offense than was anticipated. Under the radar players like tight-end, Cam Mitchell, give the Dragons another weapon as once they score he can often be found snagging a 2-point conversion. Lakeside has not technically locked in their playoff bid yet but could with one more win. The Dragons toughest remaining opponent will come in Week 8 against the powerhouse 7-0 Kirtland Hornets. Lakeside’s best chance at the oh-so-important sixth win will come in Week 9 against an 0-7 Orange Lions team or Week 10 in the “Battle for the Bridge” against rival Edgewood. (4-3).
Geneva Eagles- The Eagles (5-2) started the season with a heartbreaking and head-scratching loss to the rival Madison Blue Streaks, who currently sit at 2-5. The Eagles would then fire off three back to back to back impressive wins over Springfield, Struthers, and Lakeside taking home the “Battle for Route 84” trophy for the first time. Geneva was brought back down to reality with a loss to northeast Ohio’s Deebo Kirtland in Week 5, but followed that with dominating wins over West Geauga and Edgewood. With Geneva, their game is simple and out in the open, they are going to run the ball. The Wing T offense is subject to criticism every year yet remains effective year in and year out yielding points and clock control. Even though the Eagles have not been favored in many games this year, they have ultimately been successful. Through Week 6, the Eagles have amassed almost 1400 yards rushing with a five-headed monster that includes senior fullback Jake Wilson, junior quarterback Kenny Young, junior running back Luke Smith, sophomore wing Hayden Diemer, and freshman running back Bryce Peet. Luke Smith leads all rushers with 60 carries for 536 yards and 8 touchdowns. Defensively, Geneva leads the county in interceptions with eight and Gio Rice accounts for three of them. Much like Lakeside, Geneva has not locked in their playoff spot yet but still has a strong chance of making it. Their best hopes of getting their sixth win of the year will come in Week 8 against a struggling 2-5 West Geauga team but will grow harder in Week 9 versus Perry and Week 10 against Chagrin Falls.
Edgewood Warriors- The Edgewood Warriors (4-3) have been a fun team to try and understand this year as their offense is seemingly unstoppable in some games but struggles in others. Through Week 6, the Warriors possess the lone one thousand-yard passer in junior Tony Hall who sits with 1,046 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. The rushing game has been trouble for the Warriors on both sides of the ball with their offense having just under 500 yards rushing led by Zeke Lucas, with 315 yards, and the defense struggling most against run-heavy teams. The defense is led by a pair of stout linebackers in Zeke Lucas and Seth Enos who combine for 131.5 tackles and 19 tackles for loss. Edgewood’s most impressive win comes in Week 1 over the Conneaut Spartans. (5-2) and losses include Jefferson, Perry, and Geneva. All of them are really solid teams. Edgewood can still get into the playoffs with four wins but it will be close. They can punch their ticket with a fifth win and their best chance will come in Week 8 against a 3-4 Chagrin Falls team followed by tough games against Kirtland in Week 9 and a seed-hunting Lakeside in Week 10 for the “Battle of the Bridge.”
Pymatuning Valley Lakers- The Lakers (3-4) had a nightmarish start this year going 0-4 against Mineral Ridge, Cardinal, Grand Valley, and Rootstown. The Lakers got their program back afloat after a big win over a new conference foe St. John 40-0. Since their last loss to Rootstown, the Lakers have won three straight over St. John (2-4), Fairport (2-5), and Windham (2-4). In that three-game stretch, the Lakers outscored their opponents 138-24. An all-out rushing attack led by sophomores Ryan Croston, who has 100 carries for 730 yards, and Ty Vickery, who has 87 carries for 525 yards through Week 6, has allowed the Lakers to find themselves right back in playoff contention. The road ahead of the Lakers is tough as their final three games include Conneaut(5-3), Toronto (4-3) and a one-loss Mathews team who currently sits atop of their NAC conference.
Grand Valley Mustangs- The struggling Mustangs (1-6) remain in the hunt for the playoffs with very tough road ahead. The Mustangs will benefit from the resurgence of the Pymatuning Valley Lakers in the secondary points category. Mustangs have taken losses to Jefferson (5-2), Edgewood (4-3) in a barnburner, Berkshire (4-3), Hawken (6-1), Harvey (4-3), and Cardinal (3-4). Injuries have plagued this Mustangs team as both their first and second-string quarterbacks have been injured during the season. Solid performances by Ashtabula County receiving yard leader Bobby Rogers, with 38 receptions for 600 yards, and running back, Casey Turner, have kept the Mustangs competitive in almost every game they have played thus far. If the Mustangs win their final three games, they will undoubtedly make the playoffs but this is no small task. The Mustangs’ final three games include Rootstown (5-2), 3-4 Crestwood (3-4), and the Beachwood Bisons (2-5).
St. John Heralds- The 2-4 Heralds hold on to a glimmer of hope for a postseason presence after Week 7. The Heralds wins include a convincing win over the Sebring Trojans (0-7) and a forfeit win over Akron Springfield. Their losses have come to Newton Falls (2-5), Windham (2-4), Pymatuning Valley (3-4), and Mathews (6-1). Offensively, the Heralds have competed with the best with sophomore quarterback, Vin Narducci, throwing for 851 yards and 5 touchdowns through Week 6. Senior Matt Miller and sophomore Will Anderson have also contributed offensively combining for 45 receptions for 679 yards and four touchdowns. While the young Heralds defense has struggled, senior Jimmy Severino has stood out with three interceptions over six games. The Heralds will play Mathews (6-1) again in week 8 followed by games against Fairport Harding in both week 9 and 10. St. John needs two more wins for the playoffs with a victory over Mathews giving them a better seed. This Heralds team is young with only four seniors so, regardless of the way this season ends, look for this program to improve more and more in the future.
Ashtabula County football has had an impressive and wildly entertaining season so far. With all the upsets and late-game deciding contests, one could not ask for a better time to be a football fan. The new 16-team playoff format has drawn criticism by gatekeepers and elitists, but I personally believe it opens the door for even more football and great matchups that we may not have seen otherwise. A lot of football remains to be played and it will undoubtedly have some more surprises in store, so buckle up for a fun ride.