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Staff photo / R. Michael Semple
Brysen Powell (26) of Harding looks for running room on Saturday night against Cleveland Benedictine’s defense during the Raiders’ 24-17 loss at Mollenkopf Stadium.

Following an offseason which was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was Mother Nature which played havoc with the opening weekend of the high school football season.

Inclement weather on Thursday and Friday greatly altered week one, starting with Thursday’s game between Jefferson and Niles. Lightning caused a pair of delays at Bo Rein Stadium before officials from both schools decided to call it a night at the end of the third quarter with Niles ahead 35-3.

On Friday afternoon, the threat of severe weather forced 10 area games scheduled for that night to be moved to Saturday. Many of the games which were played Friday faced some sort of a delay.

Two of the games which began on Friday — Liberty at Brookfield and LaBrae at Campbell — were halted and had to be resumed on Saturday.

LaBrae and Campbell were just four minutes into their game Friday when lightning halted play in a scoreless game. The two teams returned to Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon. The Vikings rolled, 42-21.

“This was the first time in my 19 years of coaching in the Mahoning Valley that I had to come back and finish a game the next day, but you know what, it just adds to the craziness that has been and will be a part of the 2020 season,” LaBrae coach John Armeni said. “I’m the type of coach that likes to be schedule-oriented. I like to have a game plan and stick with it. Well, I’ve given up on that idea.

“As coaches, this year we just have to learn to take what is thrown at us and adapt.”

Lightning was first spotted in Campbell at roughly 7:20 Friday evening. After looking at radar, game officials estimated the contest wouldn’t be able to resume until around 9:45.

“We hated the idea of having to come back, but at the same time you don’t want kids sitting around in a locker room for over two hours during a pandemic,” Armeni said. “It was definitely the right decision to resume Saturday.

“We came out Friday locked and loaded. We were really focused. We came back Saturday, some of our equipment was still wet. Some of the focus was gone. Playing in the afternoon, it almost felt like a JV game. It was a rough start, but our kids regained their composure and finished strong.”

OFFICIALLY SPEAKING

One of the noticeable changes this year in high school football is the manner in which the football is handled between plays. Game officials now have very limited contact with the football. Rather than handing the ball back to the officials at the end of the play, the offense will take the ball with them back to the huddle. Meanwhile, the umpire places an orange bean bag at the spot where the ball will be snapped.

Veteran area official Eric Marino worked as an umpire both Thursday (Howland-Canfield) and Friday (Poland-South Range). He noted that the new procedure took some getting used to for both players and officials.

“From the time they were at the peewee level, players are taught to get up and hand the ball to an official,” Marino said. “Out of habit, that was happening early on in both games. Even as game officials, you’re so used to looking around for the ball. It was pretty odd for awhile, but I think everyone quickly adapted to the changes.”

Umpires now must carry several bean bags. After placing one bean bag at the spot of the downed play, they must retrieve the the bean bag from the previous spot.

“It’s a lot more running, we’re definitely getting a workout,” Marino said. “A lot of teams run a hurry-up offense, so we have to get in a rhythm so we don’t disrupt the flow of the game.”

Marino noted that the newly-introduced protocol can be especially challenging in certain scenarios such as a long, incomplete pass.

“Now you might have a receiver having to go chase down a ball, twenty or thirty yards downfield from where the play ended, then dash back to the huddle,” Marino said. “In that case, we might have to reset the play clock.

“This is still a learning process for everyone, but overall I think it went really well for it being the first week of games.”

SIDELINE NOTES

Springfield extended its regular-season winning streak to 16 games with a 45-7 win over Mineral Ridge. The Tigers’ last lost in the regular season occurred on Sept. 21, 2018, a 20-17 setback to McDonald. … Springfield senior kicker Clayton Medvec booted a 52-yard field goal in the Tigers’ win … East Palestine has now lost 12 straight, dating back to the final game of the 2018 season. Mathews has lost 15 straight (excluding a pair of non-sanctioned, eight-man games) … Sebring and McDonald ushered in the COVID-19 pandemic era of football. The Trojans and Blue Devils kicked off their game on Thursday at 6:30 p.m., marking the first game statewide of the 2020 season … Following a rare opening week bye, Newton Falls opens up its season Friday at Liberty.

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