The Division II, Region 8 playoff race is ongoing. It’s also not the focus of Edgewood High School’s football team.
The Cougars have placed their sights on repeating as Southwest Ohio Conference champions, and they’ve got huge games in that quest in Weeks 9 and 10.
“We always tell the boys that’s what we’ve got to do anyway,” Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said. “You take care of the league first and everything past that takes care of itself.”
The conference’s top spot is being shared by the Cougars (6-2 overall, 4-0 SWOC) and Mount Healthy (4-4, 4-0), who will square off in Week 10 on the Owls’ field.
This Friday, Mount Healthy hosts Harrison (6-2, 3-1) and Edgewood visits Little Miami (6-2, 3-2) for the Panthers’ Senior Night.
“They have decent players, but I’d go with my boys any day,” Cougars senior free safety D.J. Whiles said. “We’re just wanting another league title. I think we have all the capability in the world. We’ve just got to go out and want it.”
Edgewood, which has played four straight home games, likely needs to finish 8-2 to remain alive in the Region 8 chase and ranks ninth in this week’s Harbin computer ratings. Little Miami is a distant 13th in the region, thanks to a combined 7-41 record for its six defeated opponents.
It’s still been a very successful year for the Panthers, who have already clinched their first winning season since going 7-3 in 2008.
“That sounds pretty nice,” Little Miami coach Nate Mahon said. “It’s one step at a time for us. Whatever else happens, it’s been a while since we’ve been 6-2 and in this position, so we’ll take that. We have 17 seniors … they deserve a nice night.”
The Panthers have found success despite playing the majority of the season without junior tailback Lucas Patten, the SWOC’s leading rusher last year.
Patten ran for 255 yards in the first two games, but has managed a total of three carries since because of a high ankle sprain. He hasn’t played at all since Week 6, and Mahon isn’t expecting him to play Friday.
“He’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. I think everybody’s frustrated,” Mahon said. “He’s a dynamic player and a very good kid, but our motto’s been ‘next guy in.’ He just isn’t 100 percent and doesn’t feel great when he’s cutting and sprinting, so we’re going to play the next kid who is.”
Junior Trent Dawson (85 carries, 404 yards, four TDs) and senior Jake Shirey (31 carries, 133 yards, two TDs) have stepped up in the running game, and sophomore quarterback Brody Reder has been a dual threat. Reder has completed 57 of 122 passes for 815 yards and 11 touchdowns while running 78 times for 253 yards and three scores.
“You can tell they’re a year into Coach Mahon’s offense,” Clemmons said. “The quarterback throws a nice ball and spreads it around. They use a lot of different formations and really make your defense have to focus on their keys and reads.”
The Panthers are at the top of the SWOC’s defensive standings, allowing 176.9 yards and 10.5 points per game. They’ve held their opponents to seven points or less five times, including last week in a 14-7 triumph over Ross.
“I thought they were really much better than an 0-8 team,” Mahon said. “They’ve got a very, very good defense.”
He said his defensive front has been especially strong with David Tosh, Chase Adkins and Chad Mirolo on the line, along with ends/outside linebackers Casey Lawrence and Gabe Huffman.
“Our mainstay has been our defense,” Mahon said. “They play hard and they play fast and they’ve given other teams fits.
“As long as we can move the ball (against Edgewood), I think we can do a good job of sustaining them on defense. Our defense has played very, very well, and we’ve been very, very sound on special teams. If can continue that and don’t turn the ball over, I think we’re right in the game.”
The Cougars’ Wing-T offense has produced 2,438 rushing yards behind the 1-2 punch of Wade Phillips (131 carries, 1,034 yards, 14 TDs) and Elijah Williams (90 carries, 690 yards, 11 TDs). The latter has come back strong from an early-season injury.
Defensively, Edgewood is allowing 206 yards and 16.1 points per game.
“Our defense is very fast, very hard hitting … we have an attitude about us,” Whiles said. “We don’t like to get manhandled. We like to play smashmouth football.”
The Cougars got off to a sluggish start on Senior Night against Talawanda last Friday, but rebounded for a 55-17 victory. Whiles contributed a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown after the Braves went up 10-7.
“That was the front wall. I barely even got touched,” said Whiles, who added a 65-yard run on a reverse. “I just had to make the kicker miss, that’s it. It’s pretty exhausting at the end, but you don’t feel it until you slow down.”
Defensively, Whiles has three interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries.
What: Edgewood (6-2, 4-0 SWOC) at Little Miami (6-2, 3-2 SWOC), 7 p.m.
Where: Hi-Five Field, 3001 E. U.S. 22 & 3, Morrow
Last year: Edgewood won 55-14