Attempting to move the ball against the All-News Journal first team defense would be an exercise in futility.
Ball carriers would be lucky to get back to the line of scrimmage. Quarterbacks wouldn’t have much time to throw and on the outside occasion when they didn’t end up on their backsides, their passes would be lucky to find their intended targets.
We have run-stuffers on the line, ball-hawks in the secondary and a versatile linebacking crew led by Mansfield Senior’s Jaleel Taylor, the News Journal Defensive Player of the Year.
Just a junior, Taylor led the Tygers with 99 tackles during the regular season. He had nine tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and an interception.
The linebacking corps had a distinct Ohio Cardinal Conference flavor. Joining Taylor are Madison’s Seth Gowitzka, Ashland’s Willie Moore and Lexington’s Michael Boals, along with Wynford’s Garrett Shutler and Galion’s Nate Cass.
A 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior, Gowitzka ranked among OCC leaders with 98 tackles. He had three tackles for loss and forced two fumbles for the Rams, who led the OCC in team defense.
Ashland’s Moore has been wreaking havoc for the past three seasons. The 5-11, 205-pound senior had 98 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery, a forced fumble and broke up two passes.
Finally healthy, Boals had a big season for the Minutemen. The 6-1, 220-pound senior had 101 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks.
Shutler’s graduation this spring can’t come soon enough for the rest of the North Central Conference. The senior had a team-high 121 tackles, the third straight year he has led Wynford in stops.
Cass ranked second in the NCC with 136 tackles. The senior had five tackles for loss and an interception.
Our defensive ends, Mansfield Senior’s Antonio Sanderfer and Hillsdale’s Ryan Bee, set up shop in opposing backfields all season. Sanderfer had 67 tackles, including 23 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. The imposing Bee (6-7, 235) had 58 tackles, nine tackles for loss and nine sacks.
The interior of the defensive line is just as menacing. Ashland’s Seth Shakely, Galion’s Mike Hollis and Mansfield Senior’s Andrais Lawrence were all but unblockable. Shakely had 75 tackles and forced four fumbles, while Hollis set Galion’s single-season records for sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (21). Lawrence had a nose for the ball, forcing nine fumbles. Remarkably, the senior blocked two punts, three PATs and one field goal attempt.
Our picks at cornerback are Mansfield Senior’s Matt Robinson and Jakkar Bishop. Robinson had 57 tackles and broke up 10 passes, while Bishop had 52 stops and two interceptions and broke up eight passes.
Our three safeties, Colonel Crawford’s Alec Hetzel, Madison’s Dalton Fix and Mansfield Senior’s Chek Washington, combined for 16 interceptions. Hetzel led all of north central Ohio with eight picks to go along with 38 tackles. Fix was the quarterback of Madison’s defense and had 69 tackles and four interceptions. Washington, a Division I prospect, had 56 tackles and four interceptions and broke up five passes.
Our pick at punt returner is Wynford’s Adam Hartz, although the senior would fit in nicely in the secondary. Hartz averaged 16.9 yards on punt returns with one touchdown and had 53 tackles and three interceptions.
Lexington’s Gio Masi will handle the punting duties. The junior averaged 37.2 yards on 38 attempts.
With all the talent on the defensive side of the ball, offenses should proceed at their own risk.