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Federal League heavyweights Lake, McKinley square off Saturday
By Josh Weir

Friday Night Ohio


The sweat hadn’t dried from Sunday’s win against Huber Heights Wayne at Ohio Stadium when McKinley head coach Ron Johnson got his high school football team’s attention.

It was time to get ready for Lake.

“We addressed that in the locker room at Ohio State,” Johnson said. “We turned our focus to them that quickly.”

The Federal League schedule opens with a battle of 2-0 teams. Lake travels to Fawcett Stadium on Saturday to face McKinley, starting at 7:30 p.m.

An air of mutual respect hovers over this game.

McKinley is McKinley, and Lake is fully aware of the Bulldogs’ talent.

“Um, they’re pretty good,” Lake head coach Jeff Durbin understated with a laugh.

Lake is the smallest school in the league, the only Division II football team. But there’s a reason the Blue Streaks have been to the playoffs 13 times in Durbin’s 21 years.

McKinley knows better then to take Lake lightly. Remember, the Blue Streaks welcomed McKinley to the Federal League by beating the Bulldogs in Week 2 of 2004.

“We’re definitely going to get their A-plus game,” Johnson said. “When you get that kind of emotion and intensity from them, and you couple that with the talent they possess, it’s going to be a dog fight. We know that. We have to match them in emotion and execution.”

Lake has size, speed and strength. But does it have enough when it comes to the Bulldogs, especially dealing with their defense?

“They’re obviously very good on the edge up front,” Durbin said, referring to defensive ends Steve Miller and Se’Von Pittman. “Their tackles are big and thick. Right off the bat, it’s a big challenge to create holes. Then the rest of their defense runs so well.”

Lake’s specialty, as usual, is running the football. Jim Luther, coming off a 1,320-yard season last year, has 330 yards and eight TDs rushing through two games. But Durbin knows Lake needs its play-action passing game Saturday.

“We need to be able to run the football, but we need to throw it around, too,” he said. “We need some offensive balance, probably a little more than we had in the first two games.”

Lake junior QB Jon Spohn has been required to throw only 14 passes so far.

The Blue Streaks have lived off the big play, usually coming from Luther. He has TD runs of 37, 46 and 73 yards to go with scores on a 67-yard fumble return and a 97-yard kickoff return. He has scored 10 TDs overall, accounting for 60 of Lake’s 78 points.

All McKinley has allowed are 14 garbage-time points.  The Pups are allowing 1.1 yards a carry this season.

“We’re going to stick with what we do defensively, and that’s fly to the football and read our keys,” Johnson said. “But we’re very cognizant of where Jimmy Luther is at all times because the offense runs through him.”

Bryce Wilder and the McKinley ground game pounded Lake last year. Wilder rushed for 297 yards as McKinley overcame a 7-3 halftime deficit to win, 24-7.

This year, Elijah Farrakhan is flourishing in the feature-back role, totaling 287 of McKinley’s 615 rushing yards.

But Johnson isn’t necessarily counting on a repeat after completing three passes last year against Lake.

“I think we have to be a lot more diverse than that,” Johnson said. “They’re playing the run very, very well. (Corey Paulino) in the middle there at linebacker is a great player. We want to stay as far away from him as we can.”

McKinley QB Kyle Ohradzansky has thrown for 216 yards on 18-of-35 passing, with two TDs and no interceptions.

Durbin remembers his defense being on the field too long last year, especially in the second half.

“I think we’re a little faster defensively this year,” Durbin said. “We’re hopeful we’ll tackle better. Part of the problem is they spread the field. They have athletes at a lot of positions.”

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