By Bryant Billing
SIDNEY — Same teams, different time and place.
That is the story when Lehman Catholic (9-1) hosts Lima Perry (6-4) on Friday for the second time in three weeks, this time at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium in the opening round of the Division VII, Region 28 playoffs. All playoff games have 7:30 kickoffs, compared to normal 7 p.m. start times of NWCC games.
Two weeks ago at Sidney Memorial Stadium, Lehman defeated Perry 49-13 in a key Northwest Central Conference matchup that led to Lehman winning the conference title with a perfect 7-0 title.
It was a big performance for Lehman, which beat Riverside 45-14 last week. Lehman coach Dick Roll knows Perry will be looking for revenge on Friday.
“I never like to play anybody that close together, I don’t care who they are,” Roll said. “… We’d have preferred somebody else. Playing so close is the problem, and they’ve got some spark. We saw a quote in the paper from them, and I’m sure they want to prove that they aren’t bad. And they’re not. They’re a good football team, there’s no question about it. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
Lehman Catholic junior quarterback Elliott Gilardi (6-foot-0, 165 pounds) completed 14-of-17 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns against Perry while rushing for 176 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.
Senior running back Owen Smith (5-11, 177) rushed for 212 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns, and senior receiver Kameron Lee (6-4, 215) caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 80 yards and one touchdown on seven carries.
One player who will be missing from the first game is senior receiver and defensive back Brandon Barhorst, who tore his ACL on a touchdown reception against Perry.
Barhorst caught seven touchdown passes on offense and had 54 tackles and an interception on defense.
“Losing Brandon is a big loss,” Roll said. “There’s no question about it. He’s a three-year starter and four-year letterman. Just his leadership on defense will be missed, and our depth — we’re really down, scraping the bottom depth-wise. But last week, the guys stepped up. We’ve just got to continue that. That makes us coaches think a little bit harder about what we’re going to do in certain situations without him.”
Lima Perry’s only offensive success in the first game was junior running back Shane Overly, who had 155 yards rushing on 25 carries.
“We saw some faults in our defense, and we worked on that,” Roll said. “It’s just a matter of execution. We did some blitzes that didn’t work well, so we’re changing some things up. Some of those runs were on blitzes when we were out of position.”
Gilardi guides the Cavaliers’ offense, having completed 82-of-123 passes for 1,359 yards with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions for a 126.3 quarterback rating. He has also rushed for 936 yards and 17 touchdowns on 99 carries.
Smith leads Lehman’s rushing attack with 1,546 yards and 19 touchdowns on 139 carries.
Lee is the leading receiver with 28 catches for 505 yards and seven touchdowns.
On defense, senior defensive lineman Michael Bunker (6-5, 230) leads the pass rush with 13 sacks. Sophomore linebacker Tyler Sollman (5-10, 155) leads the defense with 69 tackles, while sophomore linebacker Drew Barhorst (6-0, 165) is right behind him with 68 tackles.
Senior linebacker Braiden Sherman (6-0, 150) has 53, Bunker has 52 and Smith has 50 from the defensive backfield.
Lee leads the team with two interceptions, while Drew Barhorst has one.
If it comes down to the kicking game, Lehman has a weapon there as well.
Junior Michael Denning has made 64-of-66 extra-point attempts and has converted 3-of-5 field goals.
While Lehman cruised to the NWCC title last week with a win over Riverside and has won nine in a row, Perry was in a battle with Marion Elgin to finish off its first winning season since 2006 and secure a playoff berth.
Martell White helped secure Perry’s first playoff appearance with a pick-six in the 28-14 win.
It’s the 16th playoff appearance in program history for Lehman and fifth straight.
The Cavaliers have a record of 18-15 in the postseason and have advanced to the state semifinals four times, most recently in 2010.