Edgewood’s Elijah Williams breaks free from a tackle attempt by Harrison’s Blake Cox during a game Sept. 21 at Harrison’s Bill Kuntz Field. Edgewood won 42-35. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep football: Plenty at stake in annual Edgewood-Mount Healthy clash

ST. CLAIR TWP. — The two-game losing streak was hardly a joyful experience for Edgewood High School’s football team, but it seems to have rejuvenated the Cougars.

Ross and Winton Woods took Edgewood down in Weeks 6-7, but shutout victories over Talawanda (54-0) and Little Miami (20-0) have followed.

“It’s been kind of like a ‘We aren’t going anywhere, we can still do this’ statement to everybody else,” Cougars senior linenbacker Tanner Polisini said. “You never count us out.”

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Edgewood finds itself tied for first place in the Southwest Ohio Conference and controlling its own destiny for a Division II, Region 8 playoff berth heading into Friday’s regular-season finale against visiting Mount Healthy.

The Cougars are 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the SWOC. Harrison is 6-3, 4-1, and travels to Northwest, Mount Healthy is 5-4, 3-2, and Little Miami (7-2, 4-2) has finished conference play.

Edgewood is in a favorable position to qualify for the playoffs even with a loss. A victory will ensure a first-round home game.

“The last time we hosted a playoff game was 2007,” Cougars coach Scott Clemmons said. “These young men were 4, 5, 6 years old, so they don’t remember the days of seeing Edgewood with a home crowd for a playoff game.

“That’s all there for us. We’re not trying to hide from it or try to act like we haven’t thought about it. We want the boys to understand the importance of games like this.”

Of course, Mount Healthy has a lot to play for as well. In addition to possibly getting a piece of the SWOC crown, the Owls currently hold the eighth and final playoff-qualifying spot in Division III, Region 12.

Mount Healthy has had a roller-coaster season and is coming off a 38-14 loss to Harrison, though Owls coach Arvie Crouch noted that his team’s four defeats have come against teams (Anderson, Sycamore, Little Miami, Harrison) with a combined record of 25-11.

Edgewood senior linebacker Tanner Polisini

“We’ve had a pretty tough schedule, and I’ve tried to explain that to our kids because they live in the moment,” Crouch said. “I think that’s anybody anymore in this generation. They live in the moment so much, they don’t see the big picture of things.

“We’ve got to step up and be ready to play a big ballgame. I’m really happy with the effort our kids are giving. Win and we’re in the playoffs, no question. That’s the way we’re thinking about it. I guess we’ve got a shot without winning, but we aren’t thinking that way. We don’t talk about losing. We’re trying to win ballgames.”

Mount Healthy has a diverse offense, but is generally a running team. Senior quarterback Michael Crawford is 37-of-80 for 478 yards and six touchdowns, and he’s rushed for a team-best 882 yards and eight TDs on 142 carries.

Junior Brandon Lanier (111 carries, 549 yards, nine TDs) and senior Tyron Mincy (67 carries, 418 yards, eight TDs) add to the ground attack. Mincy, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound fullback, suffered a sprained ankle last week, and Crouch said his status likely will be a game-time decision.

Lonnie Phelps keys the Owls’ defense. He’s a 6-2, 200-pound end with 10 sacks.

“We haven’t played our best game yet,” Crouch said. “I think we’re very young mentally. I don’t want to be negative, but we’ve just had a lot of growing up to do this year.

“I don’t think Edgewood’s faster than us. I don’t think they’re bigger than us. That Wing-T is tough to defend of course, but I think we’ve got some pretty good-looking dudes out there playing football. We’ve just got to get a little bit more confidence and a little bit better execution. We aren’t worried about anybody else because we’re our biggest enemy.”

Edgewood-Mount Healthy has become a heated rivalry. They’re the only two teams to win SWOC titles since the conference started competition in the fall of 2012.

“We’re expecting their best,” Polisini said. “As always, they’re athletic and hard-hitting. They’ll take every chance they get to move the ball and take shots on us, legal and clean. They’re an aggressive team.”

“Mount Healthy is a team that’s never going to give you anything,” Clemmons said. “They’re not going to come over here and just roll over and let us win. It’s going to be 48 minutes of a dogfight.”

He liked the Cougars’ performance against Little Miami, which was held to 96 total yards. Clemmons said Edgewood was solid in all phases of the game and had a season-low 15 penalty yards.

“I think our confidence just keeps going up and up,” Polisini said. “Playing defense is so fun at Edgewood. You get to go out and be fast, physical and aggressive. Coach (Lance) Barker gets the plays in, and then you just kind of do your thing with them. The best part of my week every week is Friday nights with the defense.

“We’re excited. You should always be scared of Edgewood, but this is a special game for us. We’ll all be emotional for Senior Night. Our goal is to not just make the playoffs, but win playoff games. We’re motivated to do that.”

Friday’s game

What: Mount Healthy (5-4, 3-2 SWOC) at Edgewood (7-2, 4-1 SWOC), 7 p.m.

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

Series: Edgewood leads 7-6 and has won the last two meetings, including 35-14 in 2017

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