Football has taken a hit, but fan interest remains high

Four high-profile Week 5 high school football games drew an estimated combined total of about 15,000 spectators: Fairmont at Beavercreek, Wayne at Northmont and Franklin at Valley View on Friday and Springboro at Centerville on Thursday. The stands at all three games were packed long before kickoffs and many more fans stood for a good view.

Multiply that game-site viewership by all the other area games for a good indication that interest in the sport is thriving at this level. That’s good to know, because prior to the season the National Federation of State High School Associations announced participation in the sport had decreased by 25,901 last season. Still, high school football ranked No. 1 among all sports for participants with more than 1 million.

Football has taken a hit as new information and studies expose the short- and long-term effects of concussions. Better teaching techniques, equipment upgrades and heightened awareness of those potential dangers are good things for the popular sport.

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• It’s never too early to talk playoffs, even at midseason. Coaches like to focus on league and conference divisional goals, as they should during the regular season. But for the rest of us, it doesn’t get any better than making a run for the postseason.

Beavercreek is one of the few area Division I programs never to have qualified for the playoffs. If you think that might motivate the Beavers, you’re right.

"It's always one of those things where you hear older people talking about, hey, I did this in high school football," said Beavercreek senior running back Kaden Wenger following a 14-3 defeat of visiting Fairmont on Friday. "Watch this; watch this. I can tell my kid someday my team made the playoffs for the first time in Beavercreek history. It's always really cool to be able to do that."

The win shot Beavercreek to 5-0 and recharged such postseason talk. Centerville (5-0), Fairmont (4-1), Wayne (4-1) and Springfield (4-1) join the Beavers in the Greater Western Ohio Conference National East Division and all are in contention for D-I, Region 3 playoff spots. The top eight teams with the most computer points in each region advance. Realistically, at least three of those teams will extend their seasons. Regardless, it’s been a banner year for that division, at least through midseason.

“It’s history in the making,” said Beavercreek wingback Sabastian Rendon, who scored on a 57-yard run. “We have a chance to actually make a footprint in Beavercreek history and we need to seal that deal.”

• Fairmont had at least two Beavercreek influences going for it. Middle linebacker Jonas Smith is the son of Mike Smith, a standout on the 1967 Beavercreek team that was 8-2 and shared a Western Ohio League title. A junior, Jonas led the Firebirds with five solo tackles and seven assists.

On Fairmont’s coaching staff is assistant Tom Replogle. His four sons all were standouts at Centerville, but the original Replogle did the same at Beavercreek (Class of 1974).

• That cluster of outstanding GWOC National East teams will continue to shake itself out with Centerville at Wayne this week. That matchup has traditionally been among the area’s best regular-season games since this series revved up in the mid-1980s. Centerville last defeated Wayne 19-14 in Week 10 of the 2014 season to complete a 10-0 regular season.

"They're a tremendous team and that's a huge rivalry for us," assured Elks first-year coach Brent Ullery following Thursday's 31-19 defeat of visiting Springboro. "We're excited to move on to it. It's Wayne week and I know they're excited, too."

Centerville’s power back is 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior Ross Harmon. He’s the son of former Elks standout Andy Harmon, an All-Pro defensive lineman with the Eagles during his NFL career.

Wayne was pushed to the limit in a 38-35 double-OT win at Northmont. That’s a credit to the Warriors for earning a contested road win. Despite losing, it also should provide a program boost at Northmont, which hasn’t had a winning season since the 2013 team was 8-3. Like all those National East teams, Northmont (3-2) also is in D-I, Region 3.

• Sidney senior running back Isaiah Bowser is on a rarefied pace. He gained 205 yards in limited action of a blowout of West Carrollton. That upped his area-best rushing total to 1,448 yards (and 19 touchdowns) through five games. Committed to Northwestern University, he’s a cinch to surpass 2,000 yards rushing and has a legitimate shot at 3,000.

• Senior Bailey Wallen has been a go-to fixture in Brookville’s backfield for four seasons. On Friday he became the Blue Devils’ all-time rushing leader in a 45-28 defeat of visiting Monroe.

Wallen went for 212 yards and scored five touchdowns. That pushed his career rushing total to 4,246 yards and surpassed Randy Hubley (4,082) as the program’s leader. Wallen, 5-10, 191 pounds, also has 61 career touchdowns.

• There are two Week 6 games on Thursday: Brookville at Oakwood and Stebbins at Fairborn (ABC 22 / FOX 45, Ch. 45.2, Ch. 995, Spectrum, mytvdayton.com). All are at 7 p.m.

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