In just three weeks, the high school football season will officially kick off.
Continuing our weekly series each Friday, here’s a look at some of the most intriguing matchups from Weeks 7 and 8, a time of the season when teams will be vying for important playoff positioning.
Harding at Boardman
A season ago, these two teams fought a competitive defensive battle that Harding won 21-10.
This season, both teams will feature new faces. Harding graduated from star receivers Dom Foster and Tyirq Ivory, while Boardman is tasked with replacing a pair of cleats from his 2021 season in Cam Thompson and Anthony Hightower.
The Raiders bring back quarterback Dalys Jett and feature star halfback Ryan Powell, a pair of athletes who are attracting a lot of Division I interest.
Boardman, under freshman coach DJ Dota, has regained most of his offensive line this season. This will help Spartans re-equip at Skill Stations.
With both teams sitting in Division II, Region 5, some critical playoff points will also be on the table.
Girard in Poland
This one could be a deciding game for the Northeast-8 ranking.
A season ago, Poland took advantage of a night of big plays and screaming numbers to overtake the Indians, 42-21.
But, the Bulldogs will be tasked with retooling a roster that was loaded with seniors a season ago, but bringing back a few crucial linemen.
Girard, meanwhile, is rebuilding his offensive line in places but bringing back just about all of his skill position experience. It starts with Nic Bengala at quarterback and Michael Palmer all over the field.
How the new-look Polish unit fits together will be tested when the Bulldogs host Girard.
Freedom at Champion
In one of the region’s most competitive matchups of 2021, Liberty used a last-minute touchdown to stun the Flashes, 27-24. This year’s game could be more or less the same.
The Flashes bring Joey Fell back to quarterback. He threw for 1,334 yards and 10 touchdowns a season ago, and added 817 rushing yards and nine rushing scores. His favorite target, Nicholas Vesey, also returns after catching 29 receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns last year.
Liberty, meanwhile, brought back Chris Cunningham after the receiver had 53 receptions for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns, all team highs, and added 27 carries for 152 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
He leads a talented set of players that the Leopards will rely on as they look to revamp their attacking front.
Liberty was just one win away from qualifying for the 2021 playoffs, so securing a victory in this game will be paramount for the Leopards. Champion, meanwhile, will be looking to get back on a solid footing after going 2-8 last year.
Ursuline at Villa Angela-St. joseph
A season ago VASJ came to Stambaugh Stadium and beat Ursuline in a 46-28 game. It was the Irish’s last defeat until the State Championship game. No doubt those returning from the Irish squad 2021 will have this one circled on the calendar.
It was also a last-minute match, as Ursuline was originally scheduled to play Boardman before that match was called off just two days before kick-off. VASJ was available and the teams competed.
Ursuline is losing some firepower from last year — quarterback Brady Shannon, tailback DeMarcus McElroy and receivers Dean Boyd and Jakylan Irving all graduated — but plenty of experience is returning.
Marc Manning is back at receiver and Christian Lynch gained valuable experience at RB2 behind McElroy a season ago. Expect them to contribute to this Irish season.