PDT Sports Writer
As 224 high school football teams in the state of Ohio start their quest for one of the seven state championships, expectations to move one step closer to Stark County are revving up.
With consecutive regional final appearances on its resume, Valley will be heading into its third-straight postseason with home field advantage in its regional quarterfinal contest. But while the Indians could be expected to make that next step and claim their first regional crown in school history, coach Darren Crabtree has a veteran squad that has been through the ropes.
“It’s been similar to the rest of the regular weeks,” Crabtree said of this week’s preparation. “…This point in the season, you’re playing for the right to continue.”
For the second time in as many seasons, Valley will carry a No. 1 seed into its regional — this year in Division VI, Region 21 — as the Indians will entertain No. 8 Fort Frye in Friday’s quarterfinal contest. While Valley will have its 30-game regular season winning streak carry over into next year, the Indians are an even more impressive 34-2 in the last three seasons when the postseason is figured.
While the recent trend of success has been a constant, the Indians’ offensive field general has changed in each of the past three seasons. Although just a sophomore, quarterback Bryan Rolfe has grown from game manager to playmaker in his first 10 starts.
“At this point in the season, I think he’s got a good grasp on what we’ve asked for him to do,” Crabtree said.
In his first two games at quarterback, Rolfe was 10-of-27 passing for 118 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and also had 24 rushing yards on 15 carries. As a comparison in the last two games, Rolfe is 12-of-18 through the air for 168 yards and a touchdown as he chewed up 136 yards on the ground in 25 totes and reached pay dirt on four different occasions.
“It gives us a third option as far as running the ball,” Crabtree said.
While Rolfe has accounted for 1,083 of his team’s 3,752 yards of total offense, the featured offensive threat is senior running back Nate Arnett. In his second year as the starter, Arnett has rushed for 1,175 yards, caught for another 177 and has scored 18 offensive touchdowns.
Factor in with the supplementary rushing attack provided by Alex Loop (51 carries, 629 yards, eight touchdowns) and Brice Jordan (63 carries, 445 yards, three touchdowns), Valley has established the run game while maintaining an ever-growing passing attack.
This will come in handy as the Cadets (8-2) venture from Washington County having won four of their last five games, including a 59-7 home win over Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans.
However, Fort Frye coach Eric Huck feels the Indian defense may be just as strong as their offense. At one point, Valley held six-straight opponents scoreless in the first half.
“Defensively, I’m impressed with the way they all get to the football,” Huck said. “They are a swarm to the football-kind of defense. They play hard, good size and strength on both sides of the ball.”
The Cadets will rely on quarterback Chandler Lang, who ran for 236 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for another 185 yards and a passing touchdown in last week’s win.
“He does a great job of running their offense,” Crabtree said. “…We have to contain their quarterback. He’s dangerous enough.”
Another player to keep an eye on will be running back Colten Shuster, who had 91 all-purpose yards in the win over the Bishops.
Schematically, the Cadets will look very similar to the Indians. Offensively, Fort Frye can line up anywhere from the shotgun to a two-back set with a tight end while the Cadets can turn around and line up in the 4-4 on the defensive side of the ball.
One factor that should be in Valley’s favor is its size. The largest Fort Frye player listed on its roster is senior Ethan Matheny, a 6-3, 268-pound offensive and defensive lineman. The Indians have three players on their roster who exceed Matheny in weight.
However, Crabtree believes size and girth may not be the best way to judge this Cadets ball club, whose losses came to Pioneer Valley Conference foes and fellow playoff qualifiers Woodsfield Monroe Central, the eventual conference champion, and Caldwell.
“They’re not an extremely big team size wise but on film they look quick,” Crabtree said.
This is the second-consecutive year and third overall appearance for Fort Frye into the playoffs. Last year, the Cadets were the No. 8 seed in Division V, Region 17 and were ousted 49-7 by Kirtland, which held the top seed in the region and lost by a point in the state championship to champion Coldwater.
“The first time you make it in a while, I think the kids are just excited to be there,” Huck said. “Now that we’re preaching this week that we’ve been there and it’s time to take another step and continue to move forward.”
Fort Frye will be looking for its first playoff win in postseason history while Valley is .500 in its previous 14 postseason games.
If the Indians contain Lang and capitalize on any opportunities that are presented, Valley can put itself in good shape to win its eight playoff game in school history and send the Cadets home with an 0-3 postseason mark.
Cody Leist can be reached at 353-3101, ext. 294, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking sports news, follow Cody on Twitter @CodyLeist.