By Skip Weaver
ANSONIA — It will be a meeting of old friends when the Lehman Catholic football team travels to Ansonia for a Region 28, D-VII football game at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
Former college teammates Richard Roll (Lehman coach) and Eugene Hoening (Ansonia coach) are the two coaching legends in the area and will meet for the second time in the postseason.
Lehman hosted Ansonia in 2008, with Lehman winning 42-7.
“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.”
For Ansonia, the key is running the ball.
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 is led by NWCC Offensive Player of the Year in senior 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. 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 Bradly Haynes, who has 36 receptions for 504 yards and four 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.”
Tickets for the game are $8 pre-sale and $9 at the gate.
Tickets can be purchased at Hallmark in Piqua and 47 Marathon in Sidney until noon on Saturday.