The top four teams in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League will all be in action in two games on Friday night, with Liberty Center looking to stay perfect while Patrick Henry, Archbold, and Bryan try to avoid a second league loss ... which would likely put them out of the title hunt.
And with this year's playoff picture in Division V, Region 18 so close, this week's Liberty (7-0, 5-0 NWOAL) at Bryan (6-1, 4-1) game and Patrick Henry (5-2, 5-1 NWOAL) at Archbold (6-1, 4-1) contest could also go a long way in determining who gets to play in week 11 as the Patriots, Streaks and Tigers are all in that region.
Not only does Liberty Center lead the way for these teams in the NWOAL (7-0 overall), they also stand atop the Region 18 standings. With one major hurdle out of the way already, a week 4 win at PH, a victory this week will further secure their position.
"There's a lot of computer points involved in this game and it's also a chance for us to get a hold on the league title, so for us it's a real big game," said Liberty Center coach Rex Lingruen. "It's something that we have to make sure we're ready to play."
Offensively, the Tigers come in averaging 33 points per game while allowing a mere 26 points all season, which has included four shutouts.
That defense will get a major test this week when it faces off against a Bryan team averaging almost 34 points per game.
"Their offense is extremely explosive. It's the first real spread team that we've seen . They've got good speed and are capable of scoring on any given play," said Lingruen. "What we have to do is drive the ball, try to keep the ball as often as we can and we have to make sure we score when we have the opportunity."
Bryan is coming off of their first loss of the season after rattling off six straight to open the year. Coach Kevin Kline says that his team certainly got a wake-up call after its loss to the Patriots.
"We have been pretty focused this week," said Kline. "The loss to PH got our attention and we understand that for us to compete this Friday, we have to play a lot better. Obviously, this is a very good LC team and we have to be an improved team or we can expect to be in for a long night."
A Golden Bear victory would put Kline's squad in what would then be a three-way tie for the league's top spot with the Tigers and the winner of the PH-Archbold contest. In order to do that, however, Bryan is going to need to find a way to do something that few teams have done and that's score on the Tigers.
"Their defense is so good that you have to take advantage of opportunities the first time you get them, because you probably won't get a second chance," remarked Kline, whose team would also benefit in the playoff picture where they currently sit in eighth in Division III, Region 10. "We have to take care of the football and stop committing silly penalties. Mentally, it will be important for us to learn from our mistakes and move forward."
In the other big NWOAL contest of the night, the Blue Streaks, winners of five straight since their loss to Bryan in week 2, play host to a Patriot team that has had their backs against the wall in terms of the league and playoff picture since a week 4 loss to the Tigers.
"As far as the league, the only mild chance we have of winning the league is we have to win out," began Patriot coach Bill Inselmann. "There's no way you're going to win the league with two losses, Liberty's too good. So, if somebody can beat Liberty, then that means whoever has one loss is going to tie them."
Patrick Henry currently sits in the 11th spot in the computer rankings while Archbold is sixth, meaning a second loss for either of these combatants would be devastating in both the league and playoff picture.
"We are in a position where we control our own destiny, both in regards to the league race and the playoffs," stated Archbold mentor Bryan Miller. "If we win out, we assure ourselves at least a share of the league and of course the playoffs. That will certainly be a great challenge, starting with an excellent PH team. The winner of this game moves on very much in control of their fate."
Patrick Henry surprised many by winning so handily over a previously unbeaten Bryan team in week 7. Not only to the Patriots benefit from carrying the momentum of that must-win big game victory, but it also helps as they play another passing team in Archbold.
"There's no doubt that helps us," Inselmann said of playing the Streaks a week after playing the Golden Bears. "Bryan has some good athletes just like Archbold and one thing we found out is we did not tackle well in the open field, so it is kind of nice to play a team that's somewhat similar back-to-back."
This game also features the two highest scoring teams in the league as PH comes in averaging 42.6 points and Archbold is just a tad over 43 points per game. On the other side, Patrick Henry has given up just under 11 points per game while Archbold is slightly over 16 points allowed.
"Priority number-one for us is stopping the run, they have a tremendous rushing attack and it will be a long night for us if we can't contain them," said Miller. "Offensively, we have to protect our QB in the passing game. Finally, we have to be sharp mentally, eliminate penalties, missed assignments, etc., and play a good clean football game."
A victory in this game keeps that team in the hunt if the Tigers are tamed at any point down the stretch.