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Red Knights taking ‘win and in’ attitude on the road

ANDOVER — The Toronto football team controls its own destiny in the playoff race.

The Red Knights enter this week ranked 14th in the Ohio Division VII, Region 25 rankings, and will look to pick up their second-straight win when they travel north to take on Pymatuning Valley at 7 p.m. Friday at Laker Stadium.

Last week, Toronto defeated Madonna, 19-16, at Clarke Hinkle Field to snap a four-game losing streak.

“Honestly, I think our defense played really well against their passing attack,” Toronto (3-5) head coach Josh Franke said. “Offensively, we were able to run the ball. If you are able to run the ball in high school football, good things are going to happen. Zeb (Kinsey) had a big night. Dom Bouscher had a big return. We were able to score off of that. That gave us momentum. He has been making big plays for us on special teams all year. Honestly, I don’t know why teams don’t stop kicking to him.”

The Lakers enter this week’s matchup at 5-2. Pymatuning Valley had its four-game winning streak snapped Friday night by Mercyhurst Prep, 27-8, out of Erie. Pymatuning Valley was originally scheduled to play at Union City, but that game was canceled, and the team picked up Mercyhurst Prep as a replacement.

So far this season, Pymatuning Valley has defeated Mineral Ridge, Grand Valley, St. John School, Fairport Harding and Windham. The team’s other loss came in Week 2 against Cardinal.

“They are in the NAC,” Franke said. “That is not a stellar conference. There are a couple of teams in the conference that haven’t won a game, and there is one team in the conference with one win. They are not a powerhouse conference. They do have a five-win team. They beat Windham, who is a good team. They are ahead of us in the rankings. They are a quality opponent, and we have chance to get a lot of playoff points.”

The Lakers scored a season-high 48 points in their win against the Heralds, and the team from Ashtabula County scored 36 in its win against the Bombers. Windham has lost three straight games since defeating Catholic Central, 36-6, at Harding Stadium.

Pymatuning Valley has struggled at times offensively this season as the Lakers have been held to 12 or fewer points three times — including both of their losses. They were shut out by the Huskies in their first loss of the season.

“They’re big,” Franke said. “They have two running backs who, if they were on our team, would be on our offensive line. One of their backs is 245, and the other one is 235. They feature those two big backs. If you are not tackling low, you are going to be in trouble. It is like they have two linemen running the ball.

“Their line is big as well. It is just as big as our line. They want to run the ball. They go right at you with their big backs. They have a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. Our defensive front is in for a test. we are going to have to win the line of scrimmage. We are going to have to tackle well.”

Defensively, Pymatuning Valley has given up seven or fewer points three times as the Lakers have posted two shutouts — with those coming in back-to-back weeks against St. John School and Fairport Harding.

“Defensively, they play a 4-4,” Franke said. “It seems like every team we have played has played a 4-4. They play a 4-4 with a man over top. We have to be able to get our guys out in space. We have to establish the run. If we do those things, we will have success. They don’t try to manipulate you. They do what they do.”

The Lakers also rely on their size when it comes to special teams.

“One of their big backs is their kicker,” Franke said. “He has a nice leg. He punts well. As far as kick and punt returners go, they don’t have any athletes that wows you with their ability in space.

“They are a country school. They’re big. They’re physical. They are not good in space. They try to beat you with their physicality on offense, defense and special teams.”

Toronto ends the regular season with a home game in Week 10 against Catholic Central. The Red Knights will make the playoffs with wins in their last two games.

“Honestly, I don’t think our guys are tuning in to see what the other teams in our region are doing,” Franke said. “They are mostly focused on themselves. They know if we win, then the rest will take care of itself. If we win the next two games, we will be fine. We will be around the 10th spot. We pretty much control our own destiny. If we win, we will be in.”

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