Fairless at Black River
Division V Region 15 quarterfinal
Tonight, 7 p.m.,
Art Stevenson Field
The teams Fairless is about to embark on just its second playoff trip in school history, with the other one coming in 1999. The Falcons posted a 7-3 record in the second season under head coach Don Wilson, who is a graduate of Black River High School. It has been a season of streak-breaking for Fairless, which ended a losing streak to Manchester that dates back to 1985 and, last week, snapped a skid to archrival Tuslaw that goes back to 1996. The centerpiece for Fairless has been its record-setting quarterback Hunter Wells, who has obliterated the Stark County passing mark this season. But Wells hasn’t done it alone, which is where a very deep pool of skill players come into play. Bryant Wickham, Austin Weyandt, Zack Kellym Jeremy Mahaffey, Christian Simmons and Tuke Olmstead all have double-digit catches and at least 200 receiving yards. Speaking of 200 yards, that’s what Mahaffey provided rushing the ball last week, reminding everyone that Fairless isn’t just a passing team. It also didn’t hurt that Wells had all night to throw when he dropped back, thanks to crisp blocking courtesy of the offensive line of Nick Schlabach, Robby Shaffer, Jarrid Bonam, Jake McGrath and Adam Widder. The Falcons defense, once it corrected a pair of coverage issues in the first quarter, made life very tough for Tuslaw. Cody Sword, Zach Wyant, Tyler Goodard and Josh Dice comprise a defensive line that stays fresh because of no offensive obligations, while Weyandt and Mickey Lanier are among the leaders at linebacker. Carter Casperd and Hunter Napier provide solid coverage at the corners, with Kelly deep at safety.
Black River’s ninth playoff appearance will pit former teammates against each other. Veteran Pirates head coach Al Young, who is closing in on two-and-a-half decades as the head coach, was Wilson’s teammate in the late 1970s at Black River. The Pirates run an offense that is fitting for an old-school coach like Young, as they run the wing-T. Of course, a wing-T offense always runs better when it has a back like Andrew Vaughn, who became Medina County’s all-time leading rusher this season. Vaughn, a 2,000-yard rusher the last two seasons, brings both power and speed to the offense. However, focus on Vaughn and back like 900-yard rusher David Bell or fullback Colin Filak can also crease an opponent. The passing game is something Black River does grudgingly, although quarterback Brock Waltz has wrested control of that position away from sophomore Vernon Beard, the starter at the start of the season. The line isn’t overly big but can move, something needed with all the pulling that comes with the wing-T. The Pirates’ 4-3 defense has been quite an opportunistic bunch, at times a bend-but-don’t-break group that counts on a lot of turnovers. Still, Waltz and Chris Kane provide pressure off the edge from their defensive end spots, with Brett Nagy the leader at linebacker. Vaughn is just as much a playmaker at safety as he is on offense, while Russell Bell is solid at cornerback.
• Get off the field. The best defense is a good offense, a mantra Black River lives by with the ground-and-pound rushing game. That puts the onus on Fairless to limit the Pirate drives to as few a number of plays as possible. While the Falcons stay relatively fresh up front with a two-platoon system on the lines, they still need to prevent Black River from putting together multiple 10-plus play drives as it likes to do.
• Strike early, strike often. Want to know the best way to put a wing-T team in a predicament? Get out to a multi-score lead early and keep putting the pressure on the opposing defense. Fairless’ offense is clearly capable of the quick-strike, high-scoring kind of game. If the Falcons can put Black River in an early hole and keep on scoring, they can really put it in a bind.
• Possess the ball. It’s not so much about lengthy drives as it is about taking care of the football. Fairless’ biggest Achilles’ heel this season has been the turnovers its had, something that has bitten it badly in its losses. If the Falcons take care of the football, they certainly can put points on the board.
Stats and trends
Fairless lost its only other playoff appearance 47-18 to Coshocton in 1999. In an interesting coincidence, the day before that game, Black River defeated the Falcons’ archrival, Tuslaw, in a first-round playoff game. ... Wells wrapped up his final regular season by completing 225-of-349 passes for 3,111 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. ... Wickham, who missed two games with injury prior to last week, returned to catch three passes for 17 yards. He’s still Fairless’ top receiver with 56 catches for 825 yards and nine TDs. ... Weyandt (48 catches, 822 yards, eight TDs), Kelly (33, 497, three) and Mahaffey (38, 365, four) all are over 30 catches on the season. ... Mahaffey rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns last week against Tuslaw. That pushed him up to 1,014 yards for the season on 143 carries and 16 TDs. ... Weyandt finished the regular season with 75 solo tackles, 35 assists, 16 pile-ons, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Sword recorded 4.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. ... Casperd, Kelly, Simmons and Weyandt each picked off a pair of passes this season. ... Sword also posted a 63-yard punt this season. ... Vaughn has 2,203 rushing yards this season, giving him 5,947 for his career. He is roughly 650 yards clear of the next-closest individual on the Medina County rushing list, ex-Wadsworth standout Dru Jones. ... As a team, Black River has completed 22-of-64 passes for 430 yards with five TDs and five interceptions. Waltz has completed 19-of-43 passes for 383 yards and two scores with two interceptions. ... Shocking to nobody, but Vaughn is also the leading receiver with seven catches for 240 yards with two TDs. ... David Bell has 904 rushing yards this season on 140 carries. Filak has 536 yards on 112 carries. ... Russell Bell leads Black River with 36 solo tackles. Nagy is next with 33 solo stops. ... Kane has 6.5 sacks and Waltz has 5.5 sacks. ... Pat McIntyre and Vaughn each have two interceptions, while Nagy has four fumble recoveries. ... Black River has created 16 turnovers this season. ... Black River’s offensive line is led by 6-foot-1, 255-pound senior tackle Gabe Eaton.