Brookfield High’s football team has advanced to the 2nd round of the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs – always a benchmark for a Buckeye State program. However the Warriors haven’t even completed their regular-season schedule.
Only in the year 2020, amidst a global pandemic, can a scenario such as this be the norm.
Brookfield (5-1) welcomes LaBrae (5-2) to George Nicholas Field Saturday at 7 p.m. in an OHSAA Division VI Region 21 playoff game. Adding another unique layer to the situation, the teams are Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Gray Tier Division rivals. The Warriors won a Week-2 meeting in Leavittsburg, 35-7.
And regarding the MVAC Gray Tier: Tentatively, Brookfield has a pair of postponed games that require closure: Oct. 23 at Champion and Nov. 6 with Crestview.
“I just left Tim’s office (Brookfield Athletic Director Tim Taylor),” explained chuckling Coach Randy Clark, Brookfield’s bench boss. “All of that (rescheduled games) is subject to change. We can play all the way up to November fourteenth.
“It’s a touchy situation, but it is what it is,” Clark admitted. “We’re undefeated in the league, Champion has one loss, and Crestview has one loss. So those games mean something for the league (championship).”
But Brookfield, first and foremost, must focus on LaBrae, which is led by Coach John Armeni (8th year, 51-32). This is his 4th Vikings’ squad to advance to the postseason.
In last week’s playoff opener the Vikings vanquished Middlefield-Cardinal (47-14). Devin Carter, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior – and LaBrae’s career rushing leader (2,410, including 511 this year, according to The Warren Tribune-Chronicle) – clipped Cardinal for TD runs of 2, 55 and 5 yards (200 yards on 16 carries) and also hauled in a 35-yard scoring strike from Aidan Stephens. Additionally, Stephens stripped a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, and tossed a 38-yard scoring strike to Tre’von Drake, a 6-1, 170 junior speedster.
Following an opening-week rout of Campbell Memorial (42-21) LaBrae lost back-to-back games to Brookfield and Crestview (42-7); however, the Vikings vanquished Champion (27-13), Liberty (53-20), and Conneaut (38-6), then LaBrae lambasted Middlefield-Cardinal, scoring 20 second-period points.
“They’ve definitely improved,” Clark confided. “We played a really good game that week (back on Sept. 4), we were clickin’ on all cylinders. But (the Vikings) are very athletic. It’s gonna be a much better game than thirty-five to seven, I can tell you that.
“I believe they want to run the ball with number six (Carter) and throw it to number one (Drake),” Clark said. “It comes down to our front seven on defense. If they’ve gotta throw the ball all over the place, that means we’re doin’ pretty good.”
“We’re excited to get this game back,” Carter told The Tribune-Chronicle following last week’s win, “because we’re a totally different team now. We weren’t all healhty at the time (of the Week-2 game). We’re all healthy right now, and we’re really hitting our stride. It should be a really good game.”
Brookfield will be bolstered by senior two-way standout offensive guard/defensive end Mitchell Sydlowski, who missed the earlier LaBrae game as he was serving a 2-game suspension.
In the teams’ early-season meeting Clark’s club contained Carter. Stephens and Drake collaborated on a 67-yard 1st-frame scoring strike that knotted the count at 7 before Brookfield bounced back. However Carter collected an 18-carry, 244-yard rushing performance against Brookfield back in 2019 (a 49-28 Warriors’ win).
Brookfield senior signal-caller Haden Gibson (167) and junior running back Teandre Craig (121) combined for 288 of Brookfield’s 302 rushing yards. Gibson tallied a trio of TDs (1, 5, 40), threw another (35 yards to Isaiah Jones) and Craig contributed a 15-yard TD run.
In last week’s playoff opener Brookfield overwhelmed Oberlin (57-22) as Gibson garnered a trio of TD runs and connected with Donovan and David Pawlowski for scoring strikes of 10 and 45 yards, respectively. Brookfield boasted 183 yards rushing, led by Craig’s 11-carry, 127-yard effort.
“We came out of it healthy, that’s the main thing,” Clark emphasized.
The Warriors have outscored opponents, 190-107; LaBrae, 221-151.
Facing the same opponent twice in the same season, Clark confided, “It’s kind’ve strange. ... I don’t like it. But our region, year in and year out, is full of teams from our conference, and a lot of ‘em don’t even make the playoffs. Typically, it’s always the top eight (from the computer region rankings). I never agreed, in the early part of the year, to havin’ byes or playin’ non-league games; I thought we should play all league games.
“Of course, we’ve got some new wrinkles,” Clark confided regarding a rematch with LaBrae. “I don’t know of many teams that’ll come back doin’ the exact same thing. What we had done earlier worked, but we’ll broaden that a little bit, maybe use some different (offensive) sets and different looks on defense for them.
“But you also don’t try and reinvent the wheel,” Clark continued. “It still comes down to the fundamentals. But I feel real happy with our progress and where we’re at.”
Notes: For Brookfield, there is a precedent, pointed out by Clark: In 2012 the Warriors won over Ashtabula-Edgewood (49-14 in Week 7), then almost duplicated that in their playoff lidlifter (38-14) en route to a 12-1 season that ended in the Region 13 title tilt. ... The Warriors have won 6 of the last 8 meetings with LaBrae, which last defeated Brookfield almost 2 years ago to the day (54-21 on Oct. 12, 2018). ... Clark (16th season, 97-67) has coached Brookfield’s program to its 6th postseason berth in the last decade.