Edgewood’s Clayton Gerber tackles Talawanda running back Terell Wills during their game Oct. 12 in Oxford. Visiting Edgewood won 54-0. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep football: Little Miami eager for its shot at Edgewood, SWOC championship

ST. CLAIR TWP. — It’s an all-out drive for another Southwest Ohio Conference title and a Division II, Region 8 playoff berth for Edgewood High School’s football team.

And the Cougars don’t see much wiggle room in either quest.

“It’s basically the playoffs now. You’ve got to win to keep going,” said senior outside linebacker Evan Brown, with Edgewood at home for its last two games of the regular season, Friday night against Little Miami and Week 10 against Mount Healthy.

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The Cougars fought back from consecutive losses to Ross (10-6) and Winton Woods (21-7) to bury Talawanda 54-0 last week, leaving Edgewood at 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the SWOC.

The top of the conference is a crowded place that includes Little Miami (7-1, 4-1), Harrison (5-3, 3-1) and Mount Healthy (5-3, 3-1).

Edgewood is the two-time defending champion, and Little Miami can clinch at least a share of its first SWOC crown Friday. Yet the Panthers have never beaten the Cougars … the closest decision in six meetings was 21-7 in 2014.

“We had never beaten Mount Healthy, and I didn’t know that until after the fact,” said Little Miami coach Nate Mahon, whose team hammered the Owls 41-0 in Week 4. “Beating Edgewood, it’s a large undertaking. But there’s no time like now, right?

“Who would’ve thought Week 9 that we’d be waking up and playing for a league title and a playoff spot? So we’ll take that opportunity and give them the best shot we’ve got.”

Edgewood coach Scott Clemmons said he likes the way his crew has responded since losing to Ross. It was the kind of defeat that could’ve been devastating, but the Cougars have used it as motivation.

“You always talk about kids responding to situations,” Clemmons said. “I was proud of the heart and dedication they played with against Winton Woods. We had some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of, but we knew we’d responded the way we wanted to see. Then we felt like everything was clicking the way it was supposed to be clicking against Talawanda.

Edgewood senior outside linebacker Evan Brown

“I think you can see that our league is getting better. Little Miami has yet to beat us, and they’re going to come over here hungry. This is going to be a game about character, fundamentals, physicality, ball control and defense being sound and fundamental.”

The Panthers are clearly on the rise under Mahon, a 2003 Hamilton graduate in his third season at the LM helm.

Little Miami is 14-4 over the last two seasons, clinching the program’s first back-to-back winning records since 1987-88. The Panthers haven’t been to the playoffs since 1992, but are currently fifth in Region 8 (Edgewood is eighth). They’ll finish the regular season at home against Western Hills next week.

“For the first time in a long time, I feel like we are competing with and playing well against the upper echelon of the SWOC, and I think the stats show that,” Mahon said. “It’s exciting. We know if we beat Edgewood, we can do nothing less than share the title and we would be in the playoffs, so we’ve got to win this week.”

Mahon said it’s worth noting that he’s had essentially the same coaching staff all three years with the Panthers. There was one significant addition this season — former Monroe and Princeton coach Bill Leach, who’s helping with the offensive line.

“He is an absolute steal,” Mahon said. “He’s a rock star. He’s retired, he’s around all the time, he knows the game. He’s just been fantastic.”

Little Miami absorbed its only loss (42-28) from Harrison in Week 7. The Panthers rebounded with a 24-10 victory over Ross last week, but got banged up a bit in the physical affair.

Mahon said nobody is expected to be out Friday, “but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been limited this week.”

Junior quarterback Brody Reder (38-of-77, 866 yards, 11 TDs) directs Little Miami’s spread offense. The Panthers are averaging 232.3 yards per game on the ground behind senior Trent Dawson (132 carries, 868 yards, nine TDs), senior Lucas Patten (55 carries, 432 yards, five TDs) and Reder (58 carries, 367 yards, nine TDs).

Patten ran for 1,531 yards as a sophomore, but he’s spending less time in the offensive backfield this season while focusing on playing linebacker and returning kicks. He’s averaging 38.2 yards on kickoff returns and 22.3 yards on punt returns.

“We try to do the best we can to keep everybody healthy and spread the wealth,” Mahon said. “Trent does a very, very good job, and he’s an all-offensive guy. I just think if you don’t have to give the ball to the same guy 30, 40 times a game, why would you? We’ve built a good team around Lucas to where we don’t have to do that with him anymore.”

Clemmons said the Panthers’ defensive speed jumps out on film. Little Miami is giving up 15.3 points per game with its multiple-front defense.

“We’re not the biggest defense in the world, but we’re going to be fast and aggressive,” Mahon said. “After the first year, we basically scrapped anybody that couldn’t move and wasn’t aggressive on defense. So now we’ve got a bunch of fast guys flying around and hitting people.”

Edgewood’s defense leads the SWOC, allowing 201.3 yards and 13.1 points per contest. Brown (6-3, 220) and classmate Justin Hiltbrand (6-4, 215) have the size and skills to be intimidating from the outside linebacker positions.

The Cougars’ Wing-T offense is producing 317.9 rushing yards every Friday. Seniors Wade Phillips (119 carries, 1,085 yards, 12 TDs) and Elijah Williams (125 carries, 938 yards, 10 TDs) are leading that charge.

Brown said Edgewood paid the price for overlooking Ross, and the Cougars don’t plan to come out with a mind-set like that again.

“The Winton Woods game showed we can play with anybody if we play to our full potential,” Brown said. “When you grow up here, you’re used to seeing the varsity team being very good. You dream about being a part of it, and then you’ve got to live up to it.”

Friday’s game

What: Little Miami (7-1, 4-1 SWOC) at Edgewood (6-2, 3-1 SWOC), 7 p.m.

Where: Kumler Field, 5005 State Route 73, St. Clair Township

Series: Edgewood leads 6-0 and won 34-12 in 2017

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