If familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying suggests, wouldn’t unfamiliarity breed respect?
Sounds a little strange, sure … but also makes some sense.
Today’s Division I, Region 1 first-round playoff game between Olentangy Liberty and host Solon would certainly serve as support. The schools have never met on the football field, but can’t help but respect what the other brings to the table.
The 10th-seeded Patriots (7-3, 4-3 OCC), making their second straight postseason appearance, have been to the playoffs eight times in 13 seasons under coach Steve Hale.
They hosted Toledo Whitmer in the first round last fall, a game they won convincingly. Today, though, they’ll be heading to Solon’s Stewart Field, where the seventh-seeded Comets (8-2, 6-1 GCC), co-champions of the newly-formed Greater Cleveland Conference, are 4-1.
The conference championship was Solon’s 28th in a combined four different leagues. The team is appearing in the playoffs for the 20th time.
“We’ll be focused and ready to go,” Hale said. “Both teams will be ready. We haven’t missed a beat in practice and have watched a lot of film this week.”
One of the things Hale and company noticed on film was the Comets’ air-raid offense. It’s been a strength all season, and last week’s 49-14 win over Medina — a game in which Solon threw for four touchdowns and rushed for another — was no exception.
The Comets rush for 117 yards per game and pass for 218, averaging 36 points per contest.
Over the course of the season, Solon quarterback Johnny Mooney completed 148 of his 251 passes for 2,146 yards with 30 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
Jake McCurry (53 receptions for 878 yards and 11 TDs) and Darryl Sinclair (27 grabs for 579 yards and 12 TDs) are Mooney’s top targets.
“We will just count on (safeties) Brendon (White) and Will (Fowler) to react to the ball,” Hale said. “Their quarterback makes a lot of plays on the run when things break down and their receivers are real quick and athletic. They catch a lot of balls and don’t drop any.”
Strong safety Grant Uehlein, who has missed time due to injury, has been cleared to play and will boost the Patriot secondary in a game that promises to provide a big-time test for the unit.
On the other side of the ball, the Comet defense has been susceptible to big plays on the ground, allowing 209 yards per game. It gives up just 100 per game through the air, though, allowing 16.9 points per game.
Quarterback Alex Lando, who has been in and out of the lineup the last couple weeks, is expected to play.
Lando, who has completed 106 of 166 passes for 1,421 yards and eight touchdowns, injured his right (throwing) shoulder in a 48-19 win over Westland on Oct. 9. He sat out the following week’s 26-0 loss to Hilliard Davidson and played in the first half of a 17-7 loss to Dublin Coffman Oct. 23.
Corbin Rapier, who led the Patriots to a game-tying touchdown against the Shamrocks, will be ready to go if needed … as will most of the guys.
We’re doing pretty well right now,” Hale said of his team’s overall health heading into the second season. “Alex played a couple series last week and every day off will help him. Hopefully he’ll be OK, but, other than that, we’re pretty healthy and appear to be over the flu that’s killed us the last few weeks.”
Along with Lando, receiver Johnny Wiseman (44 grabs for 664 yards and two touchdowns), running back Trent Davies (152 carries covering 704 yards and seven TDs), White (23 catches for 297 yards and three scores) and Drew Rosi (29 receptions for 347 yards and three TDs) are Liberty’s top offensive options.
Liberty, which notched a season-high eight rushing touchdowns in last week’s 56-0 win over Thomas Worthington, will look to find holes in the Solon defense.
“They play some man coverage, and when you do that you’re going to give up some plays in the running game,” Hale said. “We will take what they give us.”
Solon lost to Aurora, the top seed in Region 3, 24-14 on the opening night of the season, but won the next three by outscoring opponents 128-14.
A 48-36 setback to Euclid, the Comets’ lone league loss of the campaign, ended the string, but they finished off the regular season with a nice little five game winning streak — a streak which included a 28-20 win over Elyria (Olentangy’s first-round opponent).
The GCC, which formed from mostly former members of the Northeast Ohio Conference, is home to four Region 1 playoff teams, which Solon, Euclid and Mentor each hosting first-round showdowns.
Liberty also played in a loaded league, facing off against five Division I playoff teams during the regular season. The Patriots beat Olentangy (third seed, Region 1) and Upper Arlington (10th seed, Region 2) while falling to Central Crossing (15th seed, Region 2), Coffman (16th seed, Region 2) and Davidson (second seed, Region 2).
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.