Tigers have a chance to make history
NEW MIDDLETOWN — The 2019 edition of the Springfield High School football team has already rewritten the record books. Now, it’s time for the Tigers to add a few more chapters to the story, according to lineman Corey Hatton.
“We’re thrilled, I mean what we accomplished this year has been a crazy experience, and the way the community has responded has been breathtaking,” Hatton said. “But we still have our eye on the prize.
“We’re having so much fun. We’ve been going at this since the summer but every day we still can’t wait to practice. We can’t wait to get on the field Friday nights. We don’t want this to end. And we feel like we still have some unfinished business to take care of.”
The Tigers will have an opportunity to ensure that their season lasts into December when they meet Howard East Knox (13-0) today in a Division VI state semifinal game at Orrville’s Red Rider Stadium.
Last Friday, Springfield (13-0) accomplished a pair of firsts for the program — 13 wins and a regional championship.
“Looking back, we faced a lot of adversity in our season opener at South Range,” Hatton said. “We had to go to overtime to get the win, but that was probably a good thing. We were tested and we prevailed and the close game really made us stay focused from that point on.”
Against Mogadore in the regional final, Springfield trailed by seven points on two occasions. The Tigers were behind 14-7 in the final minute of the second quarter, but then scored on their next five possessions to run away with a 35-21 victory.
“Our kids played their tails off. They were put on the biggest stage yet in front of the entire community and did they ever respond,” Springfield coach Sean Guerriero said. “The thing is, I feel like we’re peaking at the right time. We’re 13 weeks in, and I feel like this is the healthiest we’ve been all year. We’ve had different guys step up all year long and as a result we’ve developed a lot of weapons.”
“It’s exciting to coach this group. They are talented and boy, are they still hungry and eager to learn.”
Springfield will face an East Knox team that has been on its own history-making run. Like Springfield, East Knox is 13-0 and in a state semifinal for the first time in school history.
East Knox made it look easy during the regular season, outscoring opponents 476-96. However, the Bulldogs won in dramatic fashion in the first week of the playoffs, then overcame a 20-point deficit in round two and overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat Carey, 32-21, last Friday.
“Obviously they aren’t going to be fazed at anything we throw at them,” Guerriero said. “They are a very fundamentally-sound team. They’re not flashy. They’re going to line up and try and run at you because they do it so well. And when they have to throw they have an accurate quarterback and some very skilled wideouts.”
The Bulldogs’ bruising running game is led by Caleb Gallwitz. The 6-foot, 195 pound senior has rushed for 2,752 yards and 48 touchdowns, averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
“They like to get the ball to (Gallwitz) as much as possible, and for good reason,” Guerriero said. “He can break one at any moment. He’ll turn what looks like a normal 5-yard run into a touchdown.”
Senior quarterback Kadden Lester has thrown for 1,994 yards and 22 touchdowns. Lester’s favorite target is senior Gage Steinmetz (58 receptions, 745 yards, seven touchdowns).
“They run a 3-3 stack defense, which is something we haven’t seen in a long time,” Guerriero said. “On special teams, their punter really booms the ball, and they have a strong and accurate kicker. Just an all-around solid team.”
Springfield has won 27 of its last 28 games, including 18 consecutive wins dating back to Sept. 28, 2018. The 18-game winning streak is the second longest current streak in the state. Both Kirtland and Cincinnati Wyoming have won 28 straight.
“We’ve had revenge on our minds all year long, and I think that really pushed us to where we’re at,” said senior wideout-cornerback Evan Ohlin. “Getting so close last year and not getting in really stung. We felt like we had something to prove. We still do.”
A year ago Springfield finished 9-1, and ended up in ninth place in region 21, less than eight-tenths of a point from a playoff spot.
Ohlin echoed the comments made by Hatton regarding the importance of Springfield’s opening-week win.
“Our season opener against South Range was huge,” Ohlin said. “We faced adversity and ended up beating a really good team. That was a good sign, but we also had to go into overtime and I think that made us keep our focus all year long.
“We knew that we were going to have to improve every week if we were going to reach our goals, which was a league title and a nice playoff run.”
Though many of Springfield’s regular-season wins were of the lopsided variety, the Tigers had to rally in each of their last two playoff games to reach the final four. Ohlin said that the team never panicked.
“We just trust in the coaching staff and trust in each other,” Ohlin said. “We’re so close as a team. It’s one of the main reasons we’re still playing. We’re never going to give up on each other.
“We’re also having a lot of fun out there. I think we’re fighting so hard to win because we just don’t want the practices and the games to end.”
Springfield and East Knox kick off at 7 p.m. The winner will play for the state crown next weekend at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.