Week 1 high school football games to watch: Tests for teams with holes to fill

Here we are, the middle of August, with the ever-earlier start to the high school football season upon us.

Napoleon and Defiance kick things off Thursday with their long-standing rivalry. Then it’s time for the first round of what will be a dramatically different 2023 football season around northwest Ohio, with more than a dozen schools shifting leagues, three Toledo Catholic schools joining one of Michigan’s top leagues, and the Northern Lakes League joining the Sandusky Bay Conference in implementing a divisional format.

Need a road map to sort everything out?

You’re not alone. Get ready for a season of new road trips and new rivalries.

Each week, we’ll pick out four games with a little extra on the line, games that a casual fan looking for a good contest to watch on a Friday night would want to go to. We’ll pick a large-school game, a small-school game, a game that could define the season for the participants, and a game with some interesting numbers attached to it.

Michigan schools kick off next week, as do Ohio’s eight-man teams. Here’s four interesting games for Week 1 of the 10-week Ohio schedule.

LARGE SCHOOL GAME TO WATCH: Tiffin Columbian (9-3 last season) at Fremont Ross (6-5)

This early rivalry game gives fans their first glimpse of Fremont Ross without play-making quarterback Kaden Holmes, who is now at the University of Toledo.

Both teams hosted playoff games last year, with Tiffin Columbian finishing second in Division III’s Region 10 and the Little Giants taking eighth in Division II’s Region 6 after its final run through the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.

This will be a good measuring-stick game for the Little Giants, who enter the Northern Lakes League’s Cardinal Division this fall. Fremont Ross won last year’s meeting 34-14.

SMALL SCHOOL GAME TO WATCH: Gibsonburg (10-3) at Ottawa Hills (8-2)

A good test for both teams in Week 1, Gibsonburg comes off a season in which it went three rounds deep into the Division VII playoffs, while Ottawa Hills ran the table in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.

The Golden Bears of Gibsonburg, who finished sixth in Region 26, lost to graduation big-yardage running back Connor Smith, who is now at the University of Findlay.

Ottawa Hills, meanwhile, is looking to build off of its 2022 success, a season in which the Green Bears opened things with a 35-13 victory at Gibsonburg.

PROVING GROUND GAME: Northview (4-6) at Southview (8-3)

The big crosstown rivalry returns to the season-opening slot it held in the 1980s and early 1990s, when Northview was in the Great Lakes League and Southview was in the NLL. The game moved to the end of the season when Northview joined the NLL, but now that the two Sylvania schools are in opposite divisions of the NLL it’s back to Week 1.

A big difference between then and now: Friday’s game will take place at Mel Nusbaum Stadium on the Southview campus, as opposed to the GLL-NLL era when the teams shared Northview’s Cats Stadium.

Southview’s coming off a playoff appearance and has several key elements back from an offense that averaged 32.7 points per game during the regular season, while Northview enters Year 2 of the Greg Silm era coming off a 33-16 loss to the Cougars in last year’s season finale.

NUMBERS GAME: Central Catholic (15-1) at Findlay (5-6)

Week 1 brings about a matchup between former TRAC foes, one with a state title to defend and the other with a quarterback who is high up on the recruiting charts.

Now playing in the Detroit area’s Catholic High School League, Central Catholic racked up its second-highest point total of the regular season last year in its meeting with Findlay, a 50-17 victory for the Fighting Irish.

The Trojans bring back quarterback Ryan Montgomery, ranked by 247sports as the No. 10 prospect in Ohio in the Class of 2025. Ryan won’t have big brother Luke (now at Ohio State) to block for him, but he will have plenty to prove as he is recruited by multiple big-name programs, including Florida, Georgia, and Michigan, after throwing for 1,787 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago.

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