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Spartans set to make third straight appearance in postseason

August 21, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Last season marked the first time in school history that a Boardman football team made back to back playoff appearances.

Unfortunately, the Spartans' stay in the second season lasted just one game as they were mauled by Maple Heights 42-12 in the opening round. That was also Boardman's second early exit from the tournament. In fact, it hasn't won a playoff game since 2007. Advancing to round two will be one major hurdle that head coach Joe Ignazio hopes to leap in 2019.

"We haven't won in the playoffs for a while," said Ignazio who is amazingly entering his seventh season as Spartans' boss. "We're no longer happy with just making the playoffs. A winning culture is contagious. The next group runs with it, then makes it their own."

In order to make this season even more successful than the past two, the Spartans will need to have some younger players assume prominent roles. Only eight boys, four on each side of the ball, return this fall making this season's roster one littered with inexperience.

"We've lost a lot of three-year kids," Ignazio announced. "We need to fill in on the defensive line. We've been filling in some spots on the offensive line too, but I've been happy so far. We're going to be playing a lot of young kids who need to grow up quickly. We'll need some sophomores to step up."

One position that will not include any tenth-graders is the quarterback spot. That's where you'll find seniors Wrenie Martin and Zach Ryan staging a steel cage match. At this stage of training camp, Ignazio has a feeling who has a slight advantage.

"It's a two man battle right now, but Ryan may have a leg up," Ignazio admitted. "He took the lead with a good first scrimmage versus Stow. We're seeing good leadership from him positioning the running backs and receivers and making calls at the line."

While Ryan may be the frontrunner for the starting spot, Ignazio conceded that Martin will be called upon at times this year. The senior is used to jumping into action on a whim as well.

"(Martin) played against Howland last year when (starting quarterback Michael) O'Horo was hurt," said Ignazio. "We know we can depend on him if we need to. It'll be a competition throughout the year."

Other senior leaders that the Spartans' coach mentioned as important pieces to this season's puzzle are tailback Nate Thompson, versatile Connor Miller and the very large Dave Merdich.

Thompson filled in handsomely for injured running back Joe Ieraci over the early part of last season when he showed he is more than capable of carrying the full load. The 6 foot 2, 280 pound Merdich is an interior lineman who should get solid offers from many top colleges.

"(Merdich) leads our offensive line," said Ignazio.

Miller is a returning starter who has seen time at H-Back, tight end and split end. His name is very popular on the Boardman campus because he is very good at football, baseball and basketball.

"(Miller) is a three sport kid and a natural leader," Ignazio noted. "He's a solid program kid."

Boardman is a solid program as a whole because it is never afraid to face a strenuous schedule year in and year out. Stiff competition allowed the 6 win Spartan squad to earn enough playoff points to enter the Division II tournament. Although this year's slate is slightly different than in years past, it is made up to keep Boardman battle tested entering Week 11.

"You set yourself up in August for important games in October," announced Ignazio. "We're filling Canfield's rivalry void (with Poland off Canfield's schedule) by playing them in Week 10. We picked up Poland in Week 2. We added Akron Garfield in Week 6 and they are a playoff team with a rich tradition."

Other highlights on the Spartans' schedule is the season opener at home versus Erie McDowell on August 30 and annual showdowns with Cardinal Mooney and Austintown Fitch in Weeks 5 and 9 respectively.

Of course, the main focus for the Boardman bunch in 2019 is to last longer in the post season than it has lately. With such a young nucleus that third consecutive trip to the playoffs may be a pipe dream. That's why Coach Ignazio is relying more on his upperclassmen this year than he has since taking over the program.

"It all falls on our senior leadership," he said sternly. "We need to grow up if we want to compete with teams like (defending Division II state champion) Akron Hoban."



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