Published: Thursday, November 2, 2006
Leopards have eye on Eagles again
Liberty has gone 28-2 in the regular season the past three years.
By JOE SCALZO
This summer, whenever Hubbard High football coach Jeff Bayuk thought about his team's opening game against Division II-power Maple Heights, one thought entered his mind: We'd better get ready.
"We scrimmaged Niles and we scrimmaged Steubenville," Bayuk said. "We wanted to get ready. And you know what? It didn't help us at all."
Hubbard lost, 54-28.
"I thought I was so smart," Bayuk said, "and then Maple Heights ran right by us."
Bayuk knew Maple Heights was good. What he didn't know was, was his team any good?
"After that game, I wasn't sure we'd win five games," he said.
But the Eagles regrouped, beating Poland (who turned out to be pretty good, too) and ended up winning their last nine games to earn a rematch with Trumbull Athletic Conference rival Liberty on Saturday at Hubbard Stadium.
"It's just continued to build on itself," Bayuk said of his team's success. "The kids have been really good about trying to improve every week."
Thing is, the Eagles couldn't possibly play any better than they did against the Leopards two weeks ago when they rolled to a 35-0 victory.
"We hope to show that we're a little bit better football team," said Liberty coach Jeff Whittaker, who has led the Leopards to the regional finals the past two seasons. "I definitely think there's going to be a lot of energy around the game."
Liberty has gone 28-2 in the regular season the past three years and its only two losses have been to Hubbard. The Leopards routed the Eagles last season (42-14) and Bayuk's team used that loss as motivation for this year's matchup.
And that worries him.
Revenge running out?
"Now they have the revenge factor," Bayuk said. "That was our motivation two weeks ago and that was from a game the year before. I'm sure they're going to be excited about the chance to redeem themselves."
Although the two teams have identical records, Hubbard has played a tougher non-league schedule.
Maple Heights went 9-1 its only loss was to Division I power Mentor and Poland went 7-3, just missing the playoffs. As for the scrimmages, Steubenville, the defending state champs, finished undefeated and Niles went 9-1.
Liberty, meanwhile, played Struthers, Akron East and Campbell, which went a combined 3-17.
Whittaker gets understandably defensive about this, pointing out that schedules are made years in advance. Also, Liberty's recent success has made it more difficult to find non-league games.
"To be honest, some teams don't want to play us anymore," he said. "People aren't dying to play Cardinal Mooney or Warren Harding when they're up, but they'll play them when they're down.
"It's a lot easier to schedule games when you're 2-8."
Bayuk also points out that Liberty played basically the same schedule the past two years and the Leopards have done pretty well in the postseason.
"It didn't seem to hurt them, did it?" Bayuk said. "I think that scheduling stuff is overrated."
Both teams are relatively healthy, although Liberty's top running back, Fitzgerald Edwards, was injured in Saturday's win over Champion and is doubtful to play this weekend, Whittaker said.
And even though his team had a lot of success against Liberty a few weeks ago, Bayuk wasn't happy about the matchup.
"I think it's great that both of us are in the playoffs, but I hate to see two teams in a league face off in the first week," Bayuk said. "I certainly think it's going to be closer this time, because I'm not so sure we were 35 points better than them anyway.
"Thing is, we're in the playoffs and we're league champs and not too much can make me feel bad about this. It's better than being at home raking leaves."