Story by Brad Bournival
Brunswick's football team knows exactly what is on the line this week in a key Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division game with Hudson.
It's more than just a league game. It's arguably THE best matchup in the state.
The Explorers (3-0) are unscathed and ranked fourth in the state poll. The Blue Devils (3-0) haven't lost either and are ranked fifth. Hudson, which plays host to Brunswick, is coming off a huge win over Brecksville-Broadview Heights. The Blue Devils knocked off Austintown-Fitch 41-27.
"I know the physicality in which they play is really good," Explorers coach Ron Wright said.
"I was impressed with them coming off the ball. I think we're very similar in that respect. I like their running game. Their quarterback is a real tall dude who does what they need him to do.
"I think it's going to be a heck of a ballgame," he said.
Both have quarterbacks with a rocket for an arm. For Brunswick, it's Steven Ficyk, while the Explorers counter with Toledo commit Mitch Guadagni. Add the fact Brunswick is first in the Division I, Region 1 rankings, while Hudson is third and it has all the makings of a slobberknocker.
"I think for us, the keys for us are real similar to the ones last week against Fitch," Blue Devils coach Luke Beal said.
"We had a real big challenge for our defense. It's the same thing this week against Hudson. Their quarterback is outstanding. Their offensive linemen are solid and their running back is very good.
"It's going to be a challenge for us to contain that," Beal said. It'll be difficult to stop their offense. We can't give up big plays. We have to sustain our drives, move the football and when we have opportunities, we need to score."
That challenge comes with a multi-headed attack as Reid Robinson (13 catches, 231 yards, four touchdowns), Colton Whited (nine catches, 195 yards, five TDs) and Matt Restifo (8 catches, 163 yards, three TDs) are Guadagni's go-to receivers.
Dean Miller (25 attempts, 162 yards) can get it done, but Guadagni (29-of-49, 565 yards, nine TDs, 157 yards rushing, one TD) is the piston that drives Hudson.
"In my mind there's nothing harder to defend than a quarterback that can run and throw," Beal said. "He does both very well.
"The key is to be sound defensively. We have to get a lot of players to the ball. Those are a lot of the things we did last week real well. He's just too good not to make plays," he said.
The key for Brunswick will be for Ficyk (31-of-44, 574 yards, eight TDs), Gary Clift (11 catches, 323 yards, four TDs) and Mike Bekeny (35 carries, 324 yards, five TDs) to keep Guadagni and Hudson off the field with clock-eating drives.
"We need to try to get off to a fast start," Beal said. "Once we get going, we're OK. But we can't make the mistake of starting slow. We need to be scoring early.
"If not, that plays to Hudson's advantage. They're going to get you at some point," he added.
So will Brunswick.
"They're a more three-step game," Wright said. "Once they get the ball to their skill athletes, those guys take off running. They've run away from most the teams they've played this year.
"We just have to be able to slow Ficyk down somehow. He's been around the game for a long time, so you're not going to confuse him. We'll just need more possessions and we need to make sure we're making tackles," he added.
Brecksville-Broadview Heights (2-1) and Olmsted Falls (1-2) will figure out exactly who they are when they open Southwestern Conference play Friday.
Are the Bees the team that opened 2-0 or the one that lost to state power Hudson by 34? Are the Bulldogs the squad that took Bedford the distance in a 14-7 loss or the team that lost to Mayfield 33-20?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle for both.
Nick Fritz has completed 15-of-38 for the Bulldogs with two touchdowns and 204 yards against one pick, but Olmsted Falls is all about the run where Matt Garrett (55 carries, 204 yards, one touchdown) and Fritz (34 carries, 127 yards, one TD) have been the workhorses.
The usual names are there for Brecksville in Luke Strnad and Tyler Tupa. It should be noted, Tupa caught a touchdown pass for the third straight game in the loss to the Explorers and has six scores on the season.
If North Royalton (0-3) wants to stay relevant this season, a win over Parma (0-3) is essential this week. In losses to Berea-Midpark, Brecksville and Highland, the Bears have yet to score more than one touchdown and are being outscored 108-21.
Parma isn't much better in losses to Lakewood, North Ridgeville and Nordonia. The Redmen have scored just 20 points and were shut out 55-0 last week.
North Royalton has won three of the last four meetings against Parma, including a 42-29 win last season.
TJ Hoffman is 28-of-41 for the Bears for 197 yards, but has not thrown a touchdown pass yet. Shane Tyson leads the way rushing with 172 yards and 39 carries and has scored two touchdowns.
Trailing 34-17 at halftime, Medina scored 20 second-half points before losing 47-37 to Wadsworth.
The Bees (1-2) had two running backs in Ian Crawley (7 rushes, 138 yards, touchdown) and Jimmy Daw (20 carries, 105 yards, two TDS) go over the century mark, while Collin Minor threw two touchdown passes and totaled 184 yards through the air.
Garfield Heights (1-2) is up next in a NOC cross divisional matchup. The Bulldogs have sandwiched wins over Collinwood and Eastlake North around a loss to Berea-Midpark.
Medina and Garfield Heights have a common opponent in North this year. The Bulldogs won their tilt 41-27. The Bees humiliated the Rangers 49-7 is their matchup.
On to the next
Strongsville's 35-28 win over Berea-Midpark didn't go unnoticed as the Mustangs are ranked 10th in the first installment of the state poll. They'll be tested yet again Friday when they bring in Solon (3-0) for a big NOC Valley Division tilt. It'll be the fourth straight week Strongsville has played an unbeaten opponent.
Solon has won 14 of the 25 meetings, but is 6-1 since the two joined the NOC in 2007. Its only loss to the Mustangs came in 2008.
Johnny Mooney (38-of-62, 462 yards, 7 touchdowns) leads the Comets. His favorite receivers are Jake McCurry (11 catches, 131 yards, three TDs) and Tim Harmondy (10 catches, 100 yards, one TD). Melvin Jackson (58 attempts, 312 yards, three TDs) and Gil Barksdale (14 attempts, 128 yards, one TD) lead the rushing attack.
Don't sleep on Berea-Midpark (2-1). Strongsville almost did and had to rally with 14 straight points to beat the Titans. Nick Gassman's 283 yards passing and three touchdowns showed the junior is ready to take the next step.
That step will be Amherst (1-2) to open Southwestern Conference play. The Comets have struggled out of the gate and have been outscored 73-27.
Amherst quarterback Nick DeJesus is 17-of-34 for 158 yards, but has thrown six interceptions and hasn't thrown a touchdown pass yet for the Comets, who have lost two straight. He leads the team in rushing with 88 yards as well and has scored two touchdowns.
The Comets are averaging just 80.3 yards per game rushing and 72.3 yards passing.
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