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 Friday Night Ohio: Federal League notes

Feeling Blue at Lake

To demonstrate the type of season the Lake High School football team has endured, head coach Dan DeGeorge noted that the Blue Streaks have turned to multiple freshmen for playing time at the varsity level. "In my 18 years at Lake, I don't think we've ever played freshmen," said DeGeorge, in his fifth year as head coach after being a long-time assistant to former head coach Jeff Durbin.

How many ninth-graders have played this fall? "Too many," DeGeorge said with a laugh. This is not to pick on the freshmen forced into action for the Blue Streaks. Asking kids as young as 14 to play on Friday nights is a lot. They probably shouldn't be on the field. DeGeorge certainly didn't plan it this way. The injuries and the losses have piled up for Lake, which closes a forgettable season Friday at Green. The Blue Streaks (1-8, 0-5) haven't won since the season opener against Northwest. Their eight straight losses represent the longest streak in program history. They will try to avoid their first one-win season since the Cleveland Browns' last championship, 53 years ago. "We've never seen some of the injuries we've had at key positions this year," DeGeorge said. "One on top of another. We already were young because we graduated a big senior class that had been to the playoffs two years in a row."

Three of the Blue Streaks' first four losses were by three points or less, and the other was a single-score game for most of the fourth quarter. Then the bottom dropped out, with Lake losing the next four by a combined score of 180-47. DeGeorge isn't sure how many kids have lost time to injury this season, but he counted 14 in street clothes on the sideline during last week's 45-13 loss to GlenOak. "That's for a roster of 61," he said. DeGeorge complimented his team for its effort, especially considering the circumstances. "It's been a tough go, but this is a great group of kids," he said. "We've been hit with a lot of adversity, but it's a prime example of how football can teach you a lot of life lessons. The kids have hung tough, and I appreciate them for that."

The earlier the better?

Before coming to McKinley, Pups coach Dan Reardon spent eight years at Youngstown Ursuline, which plays its arch-rival, Cardinal Mooney, in Week 9. Playing a rival before Week 10 isn't unusual outside of Stark County — former Federal League members Austintown Fitch and Boardman played last week and St. Vincent-St. Mary and Hoban played in Week 5, to name two — and playing early potentially gives teams time to recover (mentally and physically) before the playoffs. "I think it's probably better to have your rivalry game a week earlier," said Reardon, whose team plays Massillon at 2 p.m. Saturday. "If I had my preference, it (the McKinley-Massillon game) would probably be earlier in the year." He then chuckled and added, "But it isn't and I don't see them changing that."

Consistent kicker

After graduating a talented kicker in Mason Brown, the Perry football team has another good one this season in junior Caden Basham, who is 42 of 42 on extra points and 2 of 2 on field goals (18 yards and 22 yards). Basham played junior high football for Perry and plays soccer for the high school team. "I approached him in the winter about kicking for us," Perry coach Keith Wakefield said. "The kids really like him — he's friends with a lot of them — and he's really helped us. He's got a great leg. I'm sure he could break our field goal (distance) record. Now, saying that, he has to do it, but he has plenty of leg to make a 45-yard-plus field goal."

Green no longer

Green (3-6, 1-4) will finish with a sub-.500 record for the fourth straight season. But there is reason for optimism with the Bulldogs. They snapped a seven-game losing streak in the league with a Week 5 win against GlenOak and generally competed well despite playing a lot of youth. Some of the talented non-seniors include junior RB-LB Matthew Amison, junior QB Kage Williams, junior OL-DL Cordon Harris and sophomore RB Porter Flynn. "We played a lot of young guys in key spots and hopefully that pays dividends in the future," Green head coach Jon Wallace said. "But our focus this week is for those young guys to practice hard and prepare well to try and send our seniors off with a win. They've devoted four years to our program during an era when it was not easy to stick it out."

Bear market

Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Jackson defense allowed 236.6 rushing yards a game. Things have changed the last two weeks as the Polar Bears allowed a combined 253 on the ground. Head coach Tim Budd gives much of the credit to a defensive line rotation that has kept the front fresh and aggressive. Nate Horton, Chandler Kirtz, Max Rusu and Xavior Gray have rotated at the tackles, while Hayden Junker, Jake Johnston, Tyler Tolarchyk and Nick Brown have rotated at the ends. Junker, a talented 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior who is the grandson of Ron Blackledge and the nephew of Todd Blackledge, has battled injury and illness much of the season, according to Budd. "He probably feels like nothing really has gone his way this year," Budd said. "But this is probably the healthiest he's been and the best he's felt all season."

History lessons

If Jackson (7-2, 4-1) and Perry (8-1, 4-1) both win this week, there would be a three-way tie for the Federal League championship along with McKinley (8-1, 5-1), which already has finished its league schedule and clinched a share of the title. It would be the first time the league was divided three ways since McKinley, GlenOak and Boardman shared it in 2011. The next most recent tri-championship was 1998, when Hoover, Jackson and Lake split it. ... If Perry can get a piece of the league championship, it would be the Panthers' third in a row and 18th overall, trailing only Hoover's 21 for most in league history. The last time Perry won three straight league titles was when it won four straight from 1992-95. The last league team to win the title three straight years was McKinley from 2011-13.

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