The last time Medina County’s oldest high school football rivalry featured an undefeated showdown was 1999. The main reason for that is bad timing, as Wadsworth has started 2-0 on 12 occasions and Medina five.
Neither will give a hoot about history tonight at Art Wright Memorial Stadium. Computer points, serious momentum heading into league play and, of course, community bragging rights will trump all.
The defending Suburban League National Conference champion Grizzlies know their hands will be full as they put a 13-game regular-season winning streak on the line against the upstart Bees. Emotions will be high considering Wadsworth will honor veterans with alternate USA-themed uniforms.
“Anytime you get to wear USA across your chest, that’s an honor,” Grizzlies left guard Logan Egleston said. “This is the biggest game of my life and a lot of the guys’ lives in the locker room. We’re just really ready to go.”
“We’re all hyped, but we’re all really humble because we know it’s still early in the season,” Medina nose tackle Daniel Kasmarcak said. “We want to keep cool heads. We know we have a new game every week, so we’ve just got to bring our all every day.”
Both teams had pain-free openers before surviving legitimate battles last week. Wadsworth needed a second-half rally and red-zone stop to stun Wooster 37-31, while Medina used an opportunistic defense to upend Highland 24-7.
The team that capitalizes on mistakes likely will come out on top tonight. The Grizzlies have an explosive offense that still put up 634 yards despite five turnovers vs. Wooster, while the Bees have dominated the field-position war due to an opportunistic and athletic defense.
The skill positions are widely known, as Wadsworth sports new quarterback Trey Shaffer, record-breaking wide receiver Carson Risher and physical running backs Brock Snowball and Dom Loparo. Medina counters with St. Vincent-St. Mary transfer QB Ryan Fischer, big-play wideout Luke Hensley, do-everything slot receiver Chris Kelly and an improved offensive line.
Both teams know the key matchup is the Bees’ highly productive and disruptive defensive line of Kasmarcak (6-3, 245) and ends Noah Nunn (6-3, 220) and Jacob Tomasch (6-3, 215) against the Grizzlies’ shorter quintet of Mason Fortner (6-1, 227), Egleston (5-10, 245), Brendan Gordon (6-0, 270), Luke Sommers (5-7, 231) and Matt Gabel (5-10, 230).
“They’re Division I, a big school, well-coached,” Egleston said. “You look at their sizes, and I think their whole offensive and defensive lines are all 6-3-plus, so they’re going to be a really formidable opponent.”
On the other side of the ball, Medina no doubt will test the long ball after Wooster QB Dylan Dagley connected that way. Wadsworth’s experienced secondary hurt itself further by not tackling well, but linebackers Mason McMillen and Jack Grice picked up the slack as the Grizzlies finished with a whopping 15 tackles for loss.
The Bees counter with an O-line of veterans Ralph King (6-3, 275), David Solomon (6-2, 250), Charley Herman (6-3, 315) and Nate Maier (6-2, 245) and newcomer A.J. Coltz (6-3, 250), left to right, but have yet to rush consistently. That plays into Wadsworth’s strength, as the Grizzlies allowed only 128 yards against Firestone and Wooster.
Then again, the Grizzlies certainly haven’t seen a receiving duo like Hensley and Kelly, who already have 15 catches for 252 yards and four TDs.
“They’re big, they’re strong and they’re fast. They have all the makings of a good team,” Grice said. “But if we play as a team, we’ll be able to overcome all that.
“Our defense this year is really good,” he added. “We have a bunch of returning starters and players from last year. I think because we’ve all played together, we trust each other 100 percent all the way around the board. Our coaching staff, they do a really good job for us and keep a really good playbook.”
Despite this being the first game of September, playoff implications are in play. Fantastic50.net ranks tonight as the eighth-biggest game in Ohio, with the winner having more than an 80 percent chance of qualifying — Medina in Division I, Region 1 and Wadsworth in D-II, Region 7 — and the loser taking a significant hit.
Everyone involved is aware of the stakes but also trying to block out the hype.
“We’re looking pretty good right now, but we’ve got to put that behind us,” Medina’s Solomon said. “We’ve got to treat this game like we’re 0-0, and we’ve got treat each week like it’s its own individual season. We need to go out and focus on that game and that game only.”