ANSONIA – It’s been 10 years since Ansonia and Lehman Catholic met in a playoff setting.
The year was 2008 and the No. 2 seeded Cavaliers were hosting the seventh-seeded Tigers at Sidney Memorial Stadium. Lehman Catholic dominated in the end with a 42-7 win and went onto the lose in the state semifinals that season to eventual state champion Delphos St. John’s.
The two teams will meet again this Saturday – this time at Ansonia. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“To me being at home is an advantage,” Hoening said. “Your routine stays the same. It’s a lot easier on the team and the staff since we don’t have to pack and go somewhere. There is just a familiarity. We get to keep everything the same.
“For a playoff game I don’tknow if there is any calmness or relaxation because we are at home,” he continued. “If you are going to play in a playoff game, to me you have to feel a bit of pressure. It’s good if you feel butterflies because you know it matters to you.”
The players will be different for this match up, bu the coaches remain the same. Hoening is in his 38th season as Ansonia’s coach and Richard Roll, who is in his 40th year of coaching, has been at the Lehman helm for the last 10 seasons. But the relationship goes deeper than that between the two veteran coaches. They were college teammates for one season at Wilmington College.
“I was a freshman when Roll was a senior at Wilmington College,” Hoening said. “He was the center on the team. I wasn’t playing yet, but we stayed in touch over the years and here we are. I guess it’s a little extra special going against a former teammate and a friend, but I really don’t look at it that way. You just want to win the game, but by the same token it’s nice that two old guys are still in it.
“We have to run the ball effectively,” he continued. “We are looking to get 3, 4 or 5 yards a carry, generate first downs, maintain possession and either punt the ball or score. What we can’t afford are turnovers deep in our own territory or a lot of three and outs. We will just be giving Lehman the ball too many times if we do that and they are going to do something with it then. We’ve got to limit their possessions.”
The Tigers running game has been pretty effective in 2018. Five runners have combined for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns led by sophomore Reece Stammen, who carried the ball 135 times for 800 yards and 11 scores in the regular season. Behind Stammen is senior Matthew Shook with 106 carries for 694 yards and 7 TDs. Also over 600 yards rushing is senior Devyn Sink (73 rushes, 657 yards and 5 touchdowns). After Sink is junior Brock Shellhaas (68 carries, 474 yards, 4 touchdowns) and junior Ethan Fischer (42 touches, 219 yards, 3 touchdowns).
“Ansonia runs the ball well,” Roll said. “We must be able to stop their inside trap and power game. Their offense reminds me of some of Versailles offenses in the Coach (Al) Hetrick days.”
Lehman’s offense primarily runs through quarterback Elliott Gilardi, who Coach Hoening described as a “dual threat.” During the regular season, Gilardi completed 119-of-194 passes for 1,443 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also was the Cavaliers leading rusher with 125 carries for 734 yards and 10 scores.
“He throws a great ball and he can run like a deer,” Hoening said of Gilardi. “Their offensive line and defensive line come off the ball extremely hard. I’m impressed with how quick they are and they are just a well-coached, fundamentally sound team.
“Usually you think of gun teams throwing the ball more but these guys spread you out and they run it,” he continued. “So we have to contain their quarterback, keep the ball in front of us and not make mistakes. Once you are in the playoffs any mistake is magnified because the other team is good enough to take advantage of it, so we have to be sound in our blocking, protect the ball when we run with it and make plays when we have the opportunity.”
The other threats Lehman Catholic has on offense are running backs junior Tyler Sollmann (73 rushes, 391 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Drew Barhorst (64 rushes, 247 yards, 2 touchdowns). Gilardi’s favorite passing target has been Bradley Haynes, who has 36 receptions for 504 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“The big thing for us, at least defensively, is if we get them in a third and long situations we’ve got to stop them,” Hoening said. “We can’t let them convert that, and once we get the ball we have to generate first downs and keep the ball out of their hands. We’ve watched enough tape on them so we know what’s coming. We just have to be able to stop it.”
The Cavaliers are making their sixth straight postseason appearance, while it is the second straight year for Ansonia.
“We must protect our quarterback and establish a run game,” Roll said. “It’s a typical week of preparation except maybe a little more mental than physical. Last year all but two of our starters were role players, so I’m not sure if being in it for six years in a row makes that much of a difference.”
”I could have played Tuesday,” Hoening said of the energy surrounding the postseason. “That’s how amped up things get now that it is the playoffs. You either get it done or your season is over. It is a chance to demonstrate the success you have had in the regular season in one more game.
“Our success is somewhat unexpected,” he continued. “We lost a lot of good players last year, but the returning juniors who now are seniors have stepped up their level of competition and have played really well.“