Red Knights challenge No. 2-seeded East Knox
TORONTO — When it came time for head coach Josh Franke and Toronto to schedule opponents for the shortened 2020 season, they knew what they had to do in order to make them better and stronger from last year when they were eliminated in the first round of postseason action.
“When COVID hit and when we were looking at how we wanted to schedule, we were faced with two avenues. Do you go with a lighter schedule with schools our size and potentially get a large seed, or do you have a tougher schedule against bigger schools to help you prepare for the playoffs? For me, it was kind of a no brainer,” he said.
“Everyone makes the playoffs this year, so let’s get the experience we need to make a long run. It’s a big test Friday, but this is the position we wanted to be in. We hope all of that preparation pays off for us. We’ll find out Friday if it was the right move or not.”
The 15th-seeded Red Knights will answer that question after Friday night’s Division VII, Region 27 second-round matchup at second-seeded Howard East Knox (5-1). The kick is set for 7 p.m.
“They were in Division VI last year and were a state semifinalist,” Franke said. “They have a good, experienced team who knows what it’s going to take. They run a lot of spread formations and like to throw the ball. Their quarterback is a pretty accurate passer, and they have a few receivers who are up around 300 yards receiving. They distribute the ball pretty equally.
“Defensively, they run a 3-5. They try to keep those eight defenders in the box at all times. They’ll run man over top. It’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. It will come down to if our kids can execute our game plan and basically out-physical East Knox’s defense.”
Toronto (4-3) began its playoff run with a 26-12 victory over Tuscarawas Central Catholic on Friday. The Red Knights built a 20-0 halftime lead, while the defense posted a shutout until the fourth quarter.
Paving the way for Toronto was its rushing attack, collecting 301 rushing yards on 50 carries and three scores. All three TDs came from Garrett Dozier, along with 183 yards on 20 totes. Jojo Savage compiled 57 yards, Shane Keenan 27 and Ryan Matyas 25.
There is one key Franke attributes the strong rushing attack to.
“A formation that’s really helped us is the single wing,” he said. “In this formation, we can get multiple people involved. Garrett Dozier gets involved. Ryan Matyas gets involved, Shane Keenan, Jojo … they all have the capability to run out of this formation and the uncertainty of who’s getting the ball has helped. It also is giving us confidence in our abilities and each other.”
Overall, Dozier leads the Herald-Star/Daily Times coverage area with 692 rushing yards on 143 carries and 14 touchdowns. Nobody else has more than seven TDs.
“Our run game has become really good the past few weeks. Our line has really gelled,” Franke said. “We were moving pieces around the first couple of weeks, not necessarily where they were starting but who we were starting. I think we found a good combination of where our kids need to be.”
On the defensive side, Franke attributes one move to the recent success.
“We had Avery Wiegand move to safety, then we moved Bryson Anderson down to a linebacker spot,” he said. “That change helped us a little bit with more speed and athleticism on the field.”
The Red Knights will take a charter bus to East Knox and will stop halfway for a team meal before hitting the road again. This is where the team wants to be, and it hopes playing the likes of Edison, Buckeye Local, etc. will pay off with positive results.
“We’re playing teams to our size now. When you’re used to playing bigger schools than you, you’re facing some tough competition,” Franke said. “We’re pretty big and physical for the size of our school. It’s just when we play teams our size after difficult and bigger competition, it prepared us better to face schools our size.
“We had a really great day of practice (Monday). The kids look very focused. I think they’re buying into what we’re doing this year and buying into how good they can potentially be. I think we’re hitting our stride at the right time.”