McKinley at Hoover – a beautiful weather night, a big and loud crowd and two fine teams that battled all the way to the end. If both teams could have won, it would have been a perfect night. This game had it all, big offensive plays, stout defense and exciting special teams play including a 98 yard kick-off return for a TD by Mason Ashby. A typical Federal League battle!
I want to spend a couple minutes on that kick-off return. I no more got out of my mouth what a dangerous kick returner Ashby is than he took the ball at his own 2 yard line, weaved his way through the kick-off coverage players and outran everyone in the stadium for a TD. It was a thing of beauty, unless you were the opposing team. Rarely do you see a returner the caliber of Mason Ashby in high school … and maybe college as well. Football has made it tougher for kick returners as rules have changed and officials look more for illegal blocks in the open field like on kick returns. I get it and agree with it for the safety of all players but man, is a long kick-off return an awesome thing to watch!
Coach Antonio Hall of the Bulldogs made an adjustment to prevent Ashby from returning another kick for a score or at least great field position. McKinley tried not to kick it in his direction again that night. Sometimes that meant giving Hoover decent field position due to a kick going out of bounds or a short squib/bloop kick being covered but at least there were no more returns for TDs.
It is getting to the time of the season where teams are rising up to challenge for a league championship and others are falling behind and playing for as good a playoff spot as possible. For those teams that are not in a league, it is all about the playoffs. Massillon, who has faced that for years, Louisville, since they were forced out of their league by the other member schools and Central Catholic, are three Stark County teams that are in this position. Massillon does just fine scheduling very tough teams and hosting most of them at Paul Brown Stadium. Louisville and CCC would probably rather be in a league to develop some rivalries, cut down on travel and give the kids more to play for in the regular season. The challenge is finding other schools that you can compete fairly with in your geographical area. And, oh yeah, they have to “want” to play in a league with you. Not an easy task.
Just for fun, let me throw out a possible “league”. Louisville, Central Catholic, Dover, New Philly, Wooster. None of these teams are currently in a league so formation of a new league should be fairly simple. Five teams is a small number but workable as other leagues in the area have 5. I think Alliance fits too but they are in a league now. Plus Alliance to Wooster and Dover/N. Philly is a hike. I may be way off base but it is fun to think about. See you Friday!