ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
From the frying pan, into fire.
As if starting the 2013 season with consecutive losses didn’t make things daunting enough, taking on a team considered a favorite to win a state championship in Week 3 certainly will.
Such is the state of things for first-year coach Josh Franke and his Edgewood Warriors, who will head to Kirtland on Friday night to take on the Hornets.
While losses to Ashtabula County rivals Geneva (25-13) and Jefferson (26-12) have set the Warriors back, the Tigers have come roaring out of the gate, trouncing Division II North, 62-7, in their opener and rolling at Grand Valley last week, 61-14.
Franke makes no bones about what the Warriors are up against this week in facing Kirtland, which made its second trip to the Division V Final Four a year ago, finishing as state runner-up. With the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s new configuration for the playoffs this season, coach Tiger LaVerde’s Hornets have dropped to Division VI.
“If they don’t win the Division VI state championship, I’ll be shocked,” Franke said. “They’ve already had a multiple-touchdown victory this year over a Division II team (North).”
But don’t expect Franke’s guys to back down and roll over for Kirtland.
“That being said, no team is unbeatable,” he said. “Kirtland’s players are no different than any other team’s players — they put their pants on the same way any other player in the state does.
“I feel as if we have a great game plan and we’re going to work all week at executing that game plan. I see this game as a great opportunity for our team... we get to play one of the best programs in the state, and if you don’t want to play the best, than why are you even playing?”
The game will mark the 10th all-time meeting between Edgewood and Kirtland, but the first since 1965. The Warriors lead the all-time series, 6-2-1, having won the last three matchups, including a 32-12 verdict at Kirtland in the aforementioned 1965 meeting.
Last week, the Warriors had a tough go of it at Jefferson in the 62nd battle for possession of the Edward P. Hoadley Cup. They had three touchdowns called back because of penalty in a game that featured 23 penalties and five turnovers.
“It was a very unique game, to say the least,” Franke said. “I haven’t really taken the time to think if it was the wackiest game I’ve been involved in but I’m sure it rates up there as one of the most unusual. We expected things to be a little out of the ordinary just because we knew both teams were desperate for a win and it was going to be emotional.
“When you get players playing with a lot of emotion, crazy things are bound to happen.”
Still, Franke said there was nothing to be ashamed of.
“I’m really proud of our kids and they way they played against Jefferson,” he said. “They did everything we asked of them and they played their hearts out. It’s unfortunate the way the game turned out. I asked them before the game to leave it all out on the field and I believe they did.”
And the first-year Warriors coach wasn’t about to play the blame-the-officials card, either.
“As far as officiating, we can’t control that aspect of the game, and as the coach, I can only focus on the areas we can control,” he said. “On any given Friday of any game, there will be good calls and bad calls, no matter the state, level, or sport... that’s called adversity and you have to be able to find ways to fight back from it and we just couldn’t overcome it.”
He praised the Falcons.
“Jefferson is a great football team,” Franke said. “Their kids played hard and I won’t take anything away from them.
“There’s a lot that factors into the outcome of a game, having three touchdowns called back not only made a difference on the scoreboard, but it’s demoralizing to a team and really affected our psyche.
“We also had some questionable play calls, played without our starting center the second half and didn’t execute on a few plays... all of that factors in to the outcome of a game.”
This is a different week, though, and a new opponent.
Franke has an appreciation of what LaVerde has done in his seven seasons at the helm, compiling a record of 78-12 (.867).
“It doesn’t get any easier — they are a great football team, very well coached and are very athletic. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a team that’s only lost a single game in the past three seasons.
“They are physical, really swarm to the ball on defense, and get great leverage from their guys on the line.”
Franke said Kirtland presents a strong case for figuring out what needs to be done, working at it, then doing it.
“They aren’t very complex, they do a few things but do them extremely well,” he said. “We are definitely in for a fight, but I truly believe that if our guys play like I know they are capable of, we can win.”
To do that, Franke believes he and his staff know what must be done.
“Well, we have to stop their running attack, and that includes the triple option,” he said. “If we can force them the throw the football, I believe we have the advantage. Secondly, we have to be more physical than they are. They are a bully team, meaning they want to outphysical you, beat you up, and make you submit.
“Finally, we have to execute our offensive game plan. There’s no room for making mistakes because they will execute off of your mistakes.”
And while their mascot may be Hornets, Franke sees another animal.
“Their team is like a pride of lions — they wait until your at your weakest and then try and attack,” he said. “If we can put some drives together and control the clock, we will put them in a situation they’re uncomfortable with — a close ballgame.”