High school football: Springboro faces another big test in Centerville

Springboro's Ryan Wilhite coaches during a game against Northmont on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, at CareFlight Field in Springboro. David Jablonski/Staff
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Springboro's Ryan Wilhite coaches during a game against Northmont on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, at CareFlight Field in Springboro. David Jablonski/Staff

Panthers are 3-1 after victory over Fairmont

In the deep and competitive Greater Western Ohio Conference, Springboro was the unknown through the first four weeks of the football season.

The Panthers were inexperienced. That much was known. But an opening-night cancellation with Lebanon, a 20-7 victory over winless Middletown, a 38-7 loss at Upper Arlington and a 40-9 victory over winless Beavercreek didn’t reveal much.

Could the Panthers, a program that is always competitive in the GWOC and two years removed from a 9-2 season, compete for victories in September and October against Fairmont, Centerville, Springfield, Northmont, Wayne and Miamisburg?

Step 1 was last week, and the Panthers scored a late touchdown on a big play and made a two-point conversion to defeat previously unbeaten Fairmont 15-14.

“There was probably some question as to where we were,” Panthers coach Ryan Wilhite said. “People have finally noticed us after beating Fairmont, who’s got a really good team.”

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If the Panthers sneaked up on Fairmont, they won’t startle Centerville, which is 4-1 and ranked No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press Division I poll and is third in the Region 2 playoff points. The teams play in Centerville on Friday.

It’s more than Springboro beating Fairmont. It’s that Springboro has beaten Centerville by double-digits the past three seasons.

“I guarantee you they want this game just like our guys do,” Wilhite said. “It’s a fun rivalry to play in and be a part of. To see us beat Fairmont last week, we won’t catch them by surprise.”

Wilhite returned only three starters on defense and two on offense, and he’s starting three sophomores on defense and one on offense. The loss to sixth-ranked Upper Arlington was the low point.

“We made some really glaring mistakes in that game,” Wilhite said. “Our inexperience and our youth did show through.”

Senior quarterback Sam Feldman is a new starter but not for lack of talent. He has been a quarterback in the program since middle school but sat behind Landon Palmer and Mikey Appel. Palmer was planning to walk on at Cincinnati until COVID hit, and Appel is playing at Valparaiso.

Feldman, who is 6-foot-4, has a 66.3 completion percentage, 557 yards and five touchdowns in four starts. Wilhite said FCS and Division II schools are showing interest in Feldman, but no offers have been made yet.

“No one’s surprised at what he’s accomplishing right now because we’ve all seen that kind of talent from him,” Wilhite said.

Evan Ruzzo, the backup quarterback, is playing tailback and leading the team in rushing. Mason Leach, who caught the winning touchdown against Fairmont, is the team’s leading receiver. Evan Brown, who has FCS offers, is the left tackle and only returning starter on the line.

The returning starters on defense are Leach, who moved from linebacker to the secondary, Nathan Coy at safety and Cameron Messinger on the line.

“Those guys are playing the way they should play and that always helps you,” Wilhite said.

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Centerville quarterback Chase Harrison, in his third full year as the starter, is playing well, too. Elks coach Brent Ullery said after last week’s 38-0 win at Northmont that Harrison has been at his best the past two weeks.

Wilhite agrees. He’s seen Harrison in person and watched a lot of him on film preparing for games.

“He’s playing his best football right now, and most coaches would say that’s the way it ought to be,” Wilhite said.

Other Friday games to watch:

Springfield at Fairmont: The fourth-ranked Wildcats and Firebirds have played several close games in recent seasons with each team winning its share. The Wildcats don’t mind scoring quickly and are still trying to get all their receivers healthy, especially Anthony Brown. The Firebirds will hand it off to GWOC rushing leader Drew Baker and hope to control the clock.

Brookville at Valley View: The winner keeps pace with unbeaten Eaton in the Southwestern Buckeye League’s West Division.

Stebbins at Butler: The Indians have had some success behind quarterback Nate Keller and need this one to keep pace with Xenia in the Miami Valley League’s Valley Division.

McNicholas at Alter: GCL play starts this week. McNick is unbeaten and Alter is 2-3 with losses to Fairmont, Miamisburg and Akron Hoban, the ninth-ranked team in Division II.

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