Once again, the Tigers are making another deep playoff run

Sports

The Tigers are coming off an impressive 41-13 win over Norwayne

Tigers still perfect: Springfield impressive in Round 3, cruising into Sweet 16

NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – They say the only certainty in life is death and taxes, but the Springfield Tigers making a long run in the OHSAA football playoffs seems to be another certainty to add to that statement.

The Tigers, who have played for a state championship the past two years, are set to play the Columbia Station Raiders Saturday night in a Division VI, Region 21 semifinal contest at Marlington High School.

The 11-1 Raiders beat Black River 22-20, while the Tigers blasted the Norwayne Bobcats last week 41-13 to advance to the regional semifinal contest.

The Raiders and Tigers are no strangers to each other as they have met before in the post-season. In 2016, the two teams were involved in a 40-39 double-overtime classic battle with the Tigers advancing to a regional final that year.

“They want to establish the run. On the outside, they have a wide receiver that they like to run the jet-sweep with who is more like a skat-back and does a great job with the ball. They also have a 6’4” wideout that they use as a deep threat to stretch the field. They are really balanced,” said Tigers coach Sean Guerriero as he described the Raiders’ offense.

He continued, “Defensively, they are sound in all three phases of the game. They don’t make mistakes and they play great special teams. When teams make mistakes, that’s when they really capitalize. They are just playing good, solid football right now.”

Although the Tigers look like they might be headed toward a third consecutive run to the division title game, that is far from the mind of Coach Guerriero’s focus right now. He just wants to see his team continue improving.

“I think we had some question marks at the beginning of the season, which I knew we had some experience coming back but we needed some younger kids to step up. Right now, through 12 weeks, I think those young kids have developed into some pretty good football players. I think that’s why we are where we are right now,” Guerriero remarked.

Those question marks on the Tigers’ team were put to the test in a week one loss to South Range and a slim six-point win over Brookfield in week two to begin the season. Those games helped Guerriero and his staff gain some insight into the makeup of the team.

“I think you learn about yourself. Even last week, we weren’t 100 percent healthy, and we had some kids out in weeks one and two and I think that affected us. But moving the right kids into the right spots like Aaron Groner, who was playing tackle the first couple of games, is now our tight end and linebacker. But in those weeks when kids were injured, other kids have stepped up,” Guerriero said.

“More than anything, it helped us,” Groner remarked about those first two games. “When we went undefeated in the regular season, we felt indestructible in a way. But then we knew where we needed to improve, what we needed to do and what it’s going to take to win.”

On the season, senior quarterback Beau Brungard has connected on 97 of 135 passes for 1,633 yards and 21 TDs to pace the Tigers’ offense. He also leads the Tigers in rushing with 1,103 yards and another 25 touchdowns.

Groner has been the defensive cornerstone as he has recorded 112 tackles from his middle linebacker position. That includes 9.5 tackles for loss with four sacks on the season.

So are the Tigers right back to where they were the past two years? That is something that Guerriero indicated is an unanswered question right now.

“I don’t know that yet,” he stated. “I’m very happy with the way our kids are playing. Last week was a week where Norwayne was a very good football team, and they were huge upfront. They came and scored and we took that first punch pretty good and then our kids turned it on. I was very happy with how we responded and how we played for the rest of the game.”

“The only through-line is the goal,” Groner said. “The goal is always the same, but each season has been wildly different. Two years ago we were reaching new heights for the program and we were trailblazing.  Then last year with COVID, I can’t call that a real season at all. That was just a wild ride. This is the first season that is kind of regular and we are starting to feel that this program is becoming something different.”

“I can’t really compare this year’s team to last year’s team,” Guerriero added. “Defensively, we are playing the best football we have played all season. Our kids are not being selfish. We are playing team defense. Offensively, we know people are going to try to stop Beau [Brungard] but with that, Bo Snyder has stepped up and made some big plays. Joey Sandine stepped up and we have a good receiving corps, and Jake Joyce had a big game last week.”

“This senior group has done a great job and a lot of these guys have been playing for two or three years. They are just embracing it right now,” Guerriero commented.

Saturday night, the Tigers will count on those seniors to lead them to yet another regional final and perhaps even further. It is becoming a regular annual event for this Tiger program.

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