By Gary R. Rasberry
What has been built up as one of the most, if not the most anticipated area matchup of the football season, will finally be played on Friday.
The area has been waiting, and the state will be watching.
The annual Battle of Orange and Black between Coldwater and Versailles takes place this week at H.B. Hole Field in Versailles, in front of what will no doubt be a jam-packed crowd surrounding the field.
Those who can't make the game will head to the television set as the Ohio News Network will broadcast the game later Friday night and again on Saturday morning.
Unlike the past several years, there will be no rematch if it comes to that point in the playoffs. Versailles' drop to Division V means that there will be no chance for revenge for the team on the wrong end of the scoreboard after Friday's collossal showdown. Versailles lost 10-7 last season in Coldwater as the Cavaliers went 10-0 in the regular season and captured the Midwest Athletic Conference title. Versailles got the last laugh, though, winning 14-0 in the Division IV state semifinal at Welcome Stadium in Dayton advancing to the state final against Youngstown Cardinal Mooney. The Cavaliers have dropped two of the last three meetings and trail in the series 19-28-2.
Both teams are eerily similar defensively. The Cavaliers have yet to give up a double-digit game and the Tigers have allowed just two double-digit games. Versailles is giving up six points per game this season, while Coldwater is even more stingy, allowing just 4.3 points per game.
Last season, the Cavaliers could not score an offensive touchdown against the Tigers, relying on an interception return and a field goal.
The Tigers boast a solid team defense where a number of players get into the act. No player has more than 35 tackles, but several have at least 20.
"We're playing good team defense. That's all you can ask for," said veteran Versailles coach Al Hetrick. "We're tackling well and defending the pass. That all leads to good defense.
"Everybody is playing their spots and relying on their buddies, instead of having one guy do everything."
Coldwater coach John Reed, who became the winningest coach in Cavalier history last weekend, is impressed with what the Tigers bring on defense.
"That's always been their philosophy," said Reed, who has 110 wins at Coldwater. "They put eight men in the box and try to play man-to-man coverage, which they're very good at and allows them to put eight in the box and take the run away. If you take the run away from people, you'll probably be successful."
Coldwater, running the 4-4 defense, will try to rely on its linebackers as much as possible. All-Ohioan Ross Homan has tallied 79 tackles this season already and is on his way to the fourth straight 100-plus tackle season in his career. Linebacker-mate Cody Muhlenkamp has added 59 giving the Cavaliers the best linebacker tandem in the MAC.
The defensive ends add an additional threat as 6-6 Brian Brunswick leads the team with 31/2 sacks. Fellow tall end, 6-5 Gaston Pleiman, has added 22 tackles this season.
The big question will be the play of Brady Geier, who was taken off the field after an injury last Friday. Geier is the lynchpin of the secondary, totalling five interceptions, one taken back for a touchdown.
"They're very quick and very opportunistic," said Hetrick. "They can intercept the pass and take it back all the way. That happened last year against us (by Geier). You can't make any mistakes against them."
Offensively, the teams are night and day in style of play. While the Cavaliers have thrived in Reed's spread offense, using four and sometimes five receivers, Hetrick carts out the full-house backfield.
Cavalier quarterback Steve Borger (68-of-106 for 1,123 yards with 15 touchdowns and one interception) has a number of receivers to go as six players have at least 100 yards receiving on the season.
Geier leads the way with 283 yards on 19 receptions. Homan, in addition to leading the team with 629 rushing yards, has 205 receiving yards with Justin Kahlig adding 186 yards receiving.
Hetrick uses a solid three-back paced offense. Halfback Curtis Wourms leads the team with 519 yards rushing, with fullback Russ Beisner coming with 429 yards and halfback Matt Murphy adding 416 yards.
"They don't approach the same things we do offensively, but there's a lot of similarities in the balance of the run and the pass," said Reed. "The defense seems to compliment the offense and the excellent special teams play they have. They are who they are."
When they do pass, the Tigers will look to tight end Stephen Winner, who has 13 catches for 274 yards. Murphy is also solid as a receiving back, totalling 129 yards.
"The other thing they do is put those three good backs in positions where they can catch the ball," said Reed. "Plus they have outstanding tight ends. I don't know if anyone has better tight ends than they do."
One area Coldwater will have the advantage, comes in the kicking game. Senior Trevor Stromblad has connected on all his extra-point tries and has three field goals. Geier is averaging 37.9 yards per punt this season, regularly pinning teams deep.
"We really count on them creating good field position for us," said Reed. "Trevor has had a number of kickoffs in the end zone and forces teams to go 80 yards against us. ... Brady's net punts are execellent. Brady has had very few returns, he punts the ball away from other people. All those are keys to our success."
Both coaches know the importance that turnovers could play in a game of this magnitude.
"Those kind of plays will probably determine who is going to win the game and who will lose," said Reed. "The people who make the mistakes and have the key turnover, the key penalty or the key breakdown on special teams will probably be the one that won't be successful. I don't think it will be one team going out and throttling the other team. Something has to happen."
Hetrick believes that the big play may not be the story of the game.
"It's a little bit of both," said Hetrick "In a game like this, you like to have long sustained drives, but you have to be wary about hitting the long one. They certainly can do the same thing to you."