Coming off a rare bye week during the season, the Napoleon Wildcats are hungry for their first playoff game.
Oberlin Firelands, which defeated Upper Sandusky 59-20 last week in the opening round of the Division IV region 14 tournament, invades Buckenmeyer Stadium Saturday with the winner advancing to the regional quarterfinals.
Napoleon coach Tory Strock said the Wildcats, who are nursing several injuries, took advantage of the bye week in several ways.
“It was abnormal for sure,” said Strock. “We went back and forth whether we wanted a bye week, but once we got into it we were grateful to have it.”
Napoleon alternated its time off between being in the weight room and conditioning with actual practices. The practices were all about fundamentals, getting back to basics.
“As a result of that we got stronger,” said Strock. “We had some players that had their best performance in the weight room all season. It also gave us a chance to heal some bumps and bruises. Looking back, overall, it was totally beneficial.”
Senior Jarrett Gerdeman, who injured his shoulder during the Perrysburg game on Sept. 18, is still not expected back, while Michael Chipps, who hurt his leg playing against Bowling Green in the Cats last game, could be back this week — on a limited basis.
Chipps leads the team in rushing with 725 yards, while Gerdeman, despite missing two games, is next with 450 yards on the ground. The duo has combined for 18 rushing touchdowns.
“There is a 60 to 70 percent chance we have Chipps this week,” said Strock. “He has not practiced yet and his role would be limited.”
Strock said the bye week allowed Tanner Rubinstein and Justin Aldrich to get extra time in at practice at tailback and fullback, respectively.
The Napoleon coaching staff also used the bye week to its benefit, scouting Oberlin Firelands’ playoff game.
“It was valuable for us to see them in person,” said Strock. “Sometimes the things you see on film are not reality.”
The Falcons (6-1) are explosive, both on offense and defense. They will mix up the run and pass, preferring to run the ball.
Junior quarterback Kyle Ransom (6-0, 170) has completed 38 of 56 passes this season for 613 yards with 10 TDs and six interceptions. His favorite targets are senior Alex Angle (6-2, 180) and senior Caden Bomback (5-9, 185).
Angle has 12 catches for 140 yards and four TDs, while Bomback has 14 receptions for 275 yards and four scores.
Firelands has three players that are averaging more than 9 yards per carry this season, led by Donald Crawford, who has 341 yards on 38 carries and eight touchdowns. Ransom has 249 yards and 23 carries (1 TD), while Corey Newark has 140 yards on 13 totes (1 TD).
Carter Janicek has the most carries, rushing for 440 yards on 65 attempts with four scores.
Defensively they are led by linebacker Ryan Baxter, who has 66 tackles and a fumble recovery. The Falcons have forced five fumbles and eight interceptions this season. They have returned four picks for TDs.
Angle leads the team with three interceptions, while Crawford has two.
“The thing that stands out about them on defense is how aggressive they are and how fast they fly to the football,” said Strock. “They pin their ears back and come after you. They take a lot of chances. We have got to pick up their blitzers.”
Strock said a key for the Wildcats is getting the Falcons to face adversity. Firelands has only played two teams this season with winning records — a 9-0 win over Columbia (5-2) in the opening week of the season and a 40-14 loss to Keystone (6-0) Sept. 25.
“They have only trailed one or two times all year,” said the Napoleon coach. “They haven’t faced a ton of adversity, except in their one loss. We need to start fast and put their backs against the wall.”