FORT LORAMIE — When Fort Loramie coach Spencer Wells first begins to scout an opponent on film, he doesn’t like to take notes or focus on any one area specifically. He just wants to get a general feel for an opponent before he starts focusing on specific areas.
And though Lehman Catholic lacks much depth with its smallest roster in over a decade, Wells said he was blown away by the strengths he saw from the team — namely, their physical strength.
“I know they’ve had some injuries throughout the year, but they play physical,” Wells said of Lehman. “You can tell from the get-go they are very well-coached. …Teams haven’t been able to run it down their throats. They’ve been very physical all year. We’ve been stressing to our guys that we’ve got a big matchup and have to be ready to go.”
The big matchup will come on Saturday when the Redskins (10-1) take on former Northwest Central Conference rival Lehman (8-3) in a Division VII, Region 28 semifinal at Alexander Stadium in Piqua.
The Redskins have won their last six games by at least 41 points, but Wells said the team is preparing for a tough challenge from the Cavaliers. Lehman beat Ansonia 29-28 on a last-second field goal by senior kicker Michael Denning last Saturday. Fort Loramie beat Ansonia 37-10 in Cross County Conference play in Week 5.
“They’re a good team, and they’re going to make plays,” Wells, a first-year head coach, said. “When that happens, we are going to have to respond and win the next play.”
It’s the first time since 2011 that Fort Loramie is playing in Week 12. The Redskins have made the playoffs six times since but had lost in the first round five times before beating New Miami 41-0 last Saturday.
“It’s awesome,” Fort Loramie senior offensive guard Collin Detrick said. “It’s very exciting. It’s our first time being in Week 12 and is unique. I think we’re prepared. …This is something we’ve been looking forward to since we started playing football. It’s very cool that we were able to do that this year.”
The Cavaliers dropped to 4-3 in a 22-3 loss to Waynesfield-Goshen on Oct. 5 but have won four since. Senior quarterback Elliott Gilardi played little in the loss after being held out in concussion protocol. He’s helped lead the team’s offense during the winning streak, which has included wins over three teams with above-.500 records.
Gilardi, who was named the Northwest Central Conference’s offensive player of the year, has thrown for 1,650 yards and 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also leads the team with 794 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 136 carries.
Wells said Gilardi leads Lehman’s spread offense well and brings a challenge the team hasn’t seen this year. The Redskins have faced many run-oriented teams, including several wing-T teams in CCC play.
“He really understands the game,” Wells said of Gilardi. “You can tell he’s not a first-year player. He’s been around the ropes for quite some time now and just extends plays. He’s an explosive runner and is physical when he needs to be. …With some of the scheme that they do with him, we’re going to have to be really sound.”
The Cavaliers have several other playmakers, including junior RJ Bertini (355 receiving yards, six touchdowns), senior Bradly Haynes (542, four) and junior Brendan O’Leary (371, four). Junior Tyler Sollmann leads the squad with 558 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Wells said Fort Loramie’s defense must not leave receivers open when Gilardi scrambles.
“It sounds like coach speak, but it’s so much easier said than done,” Wells said. “You tell kids ‘Hey, when he’s scrambling, lock on the nearest guy and don’t get caught staring at the quarterback.’ But that’s a habit you just have to break. It takes a ton of reps, and when you don’t see a lot of mobile quarterbacks throughout the year, it makes it tough. We’re trying to learn that quick.”
The Redskins have a bunch of playmakers Lehman’s defense will have to contend with.
Sophomore quarterback Collin Moore has completed 115-of-192 passes for 1,539 yards and 18 touchdowns with two interceptions. Senior Carter Mescher leads the group with 32 catches for 527 yards and six touchdowns. Mark Seger and Mason Kemper both have over 300 receiving yards and a combined nine TD catches.
Mescher leads the team with 541 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Nick Brandewie, Moore and Max Hoying all have over 500 rushing yards. Moore has run for 11 TDs, while Brandewie has rushed for nine and Hoying has rushed for seven.
“We’re blessed to have a lot of guys that do a lot of different things for us, and I think each week we just try to see what the best way we can get Carter the football, Mark the football, and Mason the football is,” Wells said. “Against a physical team like them that is well-coached, for us to be effective, we’ve been preaching discipline, including on offense. They have to run clean routes and block really well on the perimeter.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.