WARDSVILLE — It was an entertaining matchup the first time around, which has many looking forward to the rematch.
The Blair Oaks Falcons and the Lutheran North Crusaders will meet for the second time in three years at the Falcon Athletic Complex. The Class 3 quarterfinal game between the top-ranked Crusaders and the fourth-ranked Falcons will kick off at 1 p.m. today.
Blair Oaks won the first meeting 48-21 in the 2018 Class 2 state semifinals on its way to the state title. Lutheran North has responded by winning 19 consecutive games since, including the 2019 Class 2 state championship.
"This team has got the full package," Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. "They've got guys everywhere. They're just athletic all the way across the board."
Lutheran North (5-0), which has become known as "Scholarship High," is loaded with skill players, LePage said.
Most prominent of those players is senior defensive end Travion Ford (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), who has received numerous Division I offers and committed to Missouri during the summer. Recruiting services have him listed as the No. 3-ranked recruit in the state.
"When people try to block him, he's able to disengage with his length," LePage said. "He has the speed to purely run down people and run down the ball. It's amazing to me how fast he is and how good he is at reacting.
"You can see why Mizzou recruited him."
Ford leads Lutheran North with 43 tackles and 13 tackles for loss in just five games this season. He leads the front line of the Crusaders' 4-2-5 defensive formation, along with senior Terrance Fuller (6-2, 220) at the other end. Fuller is second on the team with 40 tackles to go with a team-best six sacks.
The Crusaders also have a strong junior class, with cornerback Toriano Pride (5-11, 185) and safety Caldra Williford (5-10, 160) among the top 20 juniors in the state's class of 2022 that are receiving Division I offers. Each has 19 tackles.
"With a team like this, you can't sit back and tell them what you're doing," LePage said. "If you're in a third-and-long situation, they know you're passing. They're going to be ready for you. If you're in a second-and-short, you can kind of dictate it.
"I think a key to our game is trying to take 4 yards and be pleased with it. Don't try to do too much."
Senior Chris Childs (6-0, 250) and junior Makai Parton (5-11, 210) are the starting linebackers for Lutheran North.
"They're able to shut down your inside run game," LePage said. "They force you to throw the ball. They try to get you to panic, and put you in situations you're not used to being in."
The Crusaders are allowing 8.6 points per game, giving up a season-high 20 points to St. Mary's: St. Louis in Week 8.
Lutheran North won the District 3 championship 45-10 last Friday against St. Francis Borgia.
Borgia was able to move the ball in the first half against Lutheran North, and trailing 16-10, the Knights were looking to take the lead just before halftime. However, Borgia fumbled a pitch inside the 20-yard line, Lutheran North recovered the ball and drove down the field, scoring on a 26-yard pass with less than 10 seconds to go before half.
"That took a lot out of Borgia and that added a lot to Lutheran North's momentum," LePage said, as the Crusaders dominated the second half, outscoring Borgia 22-0.
Meanwhile, Lutheran North is averaging 41 points per game.
Leading the offense is junior running back Ali Wells (5-11, 170), who has 73 carries for 604 yards (8.3 average) and three touchdowns. Wells already has offers from Auburn and Florida State.
"He's just a five-tool back," LePage said. "You just really don't know what you're going to do with him because he can run a play that's supposed to be strong side, and he'll cut it all the way back to the weak side. We have to be really gap conscious."
Junior quarterback Brian Brown (6-1, 165), a returning all-stater like Ford, is 21-of-38 passing for 384 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He is also the team's third-leading rusher with 229 yards.
"He distributes the ball well," LePage said. "He'll throw the ball down the field, he'll throw slants, he'll throw go routes, he'll throw the bubble."
His top target is Pride, who has 308 yards receiving and five touchdowns. He finished with seven catches for 157 yards and two scores against Borgia.
"They throw the ball out to him on bubble screens, and they'll also use him on jet sweeps," LePage said. "He may be the most explosive player on their team."
Junior running back Jaylin Carson (6-0, 180) adds 363 yards rushing and seven touchdowns to this Crusader offense, which operates out of a spread but will also show a wing-T set or a double tight end set with two flankers at other times.
"You can't come up and play man-to-man on these guys, because they'll take one step by you and throw it over the top," LePage said. "But you can't sit back and play zone either, otherwise they'll just run the ball down your throat.
"You've got to be calculated on how you play this team and try to take risks when they're high-calculated risks."
LePage also noted Lutheran North will have one of the biggest offensive lines the Falcons will see, averaging more than 280 pounds. Among the leaders on the line is senior center Jaylin Knox (5-10, 320).
"We have to do a really good job of not only trying to change the line of scrimmage, but disengaging from them, so we're able to step off and help make tackles," LePage said.
Today's game is a tall task for Blair Oaks, but the Falcons feel good about where they're at as the state playoffs begin.
"We respect the heck out of Lutheran North," LePage said. "Are we going to be scared? We are not going to be scared. We're going to go out and play a football game.
"Let's go out and have some fun."
Notes: Blair Oaks (10-1) won the District 4 championship 60-14 last Friday against Centralia, the most points the Panthers have allowed in a game in the past decade. The win clinched the Falcons' sixth straight 10-win season and 15th 10-win season in the past 18 years. The Tri-County Conference released its all-conference football team earlier this week. Blair Oaks swept the superlative awards, with quarterback Dylan Hair being named the Offensive MVP, lineman Rylee Niekamp the Defensive MVP and LePage as the Coach of the Year. "Our players were very well-represented on the team," LePage said. Today will be the fourth straight home game for Blair Oaks. The Falcons are 6-0 at home this season and 96-11 all-time at the Falcon Athletic Complex. Rain is in the forecast for today's game with a high temperature in the upper 40s. "When we kick off, it's going to be Falcon weather," LePage said. Defensive lineman Nico Canale missed last week's game, but LePage said he will be back for today's game. "We're looking good right now," LePage said in regard to injuries.