Old SLL rivals clash in Game of the Week

Yaneek Smith

Press Sports Editor

In 1972, Gibsonburg left the Sandusky Bay Conference, along with Oak Harbor and Lakota, and joined three schools from the Northern Lakes League in Eastwood, Elmwood and Genoa, as well as Otsego and Woodmore from the Lakeshore Conference to form the Suburban Lakes League, which existed until 2011.
Despite being two of the smallest schools in the conference, the Golden Bears and Wildcats fared well in the SLL, winning seven and five league titles, respectively, and going to the playoffs multiple times. (Only Genoa and Eastwood won more SLL titles than Gibsonburg.) Both schools had a three-peat with Woodmore winning titles from 1995-97, and the Bears doing it from 1998-2000.
Some would say the Wildcats’ biggest rival is Genoa and the Bears’ biggest rival is Lakota. That might be true, but there exists a legitimate rivalry between Woodmore and Gibsonburg.
In 2011, the Wildcats joined the Northern Buckeye Conference, which included six SLL schools and Fostoria and Rossford. That same year, Gibsonburg became a member of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference. Gibsonburg then joined the SBC River Division in 2018, and Woodmore left the NBC and jumped on board before this season, giving greater importance to the rivalry. (The rest of the River Division includes Hopewell-Loudon, Tiffin Calvert, Lakota, Margaretta, Willard and St. Joseph Central Catholic.)
Last season, the Bears defeated the Wildcats, 61-13. The teams didn’t play in ’18, but, since then, the Bears have won five meetings in a row.
Gibsonburg coach Joe Wyant is very familiar with Woodmore, having been the head coach at Lakota in the ‘90s and then an assistant at Eastwood for over a decade before taking over at his current position.
“They had a real good time back in the ‘90s when Mike Lee was there, and then they took a little bit of a downturn,” said Wyant. “I think Curtis has them going in the right direction. Their numbers are a lot higher. Curtis has close to 40 kids on his roster, from what I saw. I think he’s doing a good job.”
The schools are separated by less than nine miles and the villages embody a tough, blue-collar work ethic that has produced its share of elite teams over the years.
“(Elmore and Woodville) are not much bigger than Gibsonburg. Both villages have hard-working people,” said Wyant. “They’re proud people, they want to win.”
Schlea, who coached for a year under Wyant, talked about the three villages.
“Our high schools are less than 15 minutes apart. I look at this game as our biggest rival,” he said. “Woodmore and Gibsonburg have been playing football against each other since 1972. There’s only been a few years where they didn’t play.
“I grew up on a farm halfway between Woodville and Gibsonburg. I went to school and played football at Woodmore, but I also grew up going to church in Gibsonburg. I was a teacher and coach at Gibsonburg for five years before coming back to Woodmore to teach and coach. My last year at Gibsonburg was the 2019 season, when we went 10-0. I was actually an assistant coach with Joe Wyant and Glenn Owens over at Gibsonburg, so we know each other well and have a good relationship.”
Gibsonburg is 1-3 and 0-1 in the River Division, with the lone victory coming over Seneca East, 12-8. The combined record of the three teams the Bears have lost to — Hopewell-Loudon (4-0), Edison (4-0) and Ottawa Hills (3-1) — is 11-1.
The Chieftains, one of the top teams in the state, beat the Bears, 26-7, in week four.
“I think we’re getting better every week. The game last week wasn’t a horrible game; we were competitive. We have a couple of guys injured right now, and we’re getting better than we were before,” said Wyatt. “We are going to take our lumps against good teams.”
The Bears lost a bevy of good players from last season, the best in school history. Gibsonburg went 10-3 and advanced to the Division VII regional semifinals, falling 35-27 to Antwerp.
“Gibsonburg has a great football program,” said Schlea. “They're a small Division VII school and usually have around 30-35 players on the football team each year, but they win games. Last year, they made it to the third round of the playoffs and took Antwerp to the wire. Since 2015, I think they've won five league championships and have made the state playoffs all but one year.”
Woodmore is 1-3 and 0-1 in the River Division, but two of its losses have come by a combined seven points. In week four, the Wildcats lost to Willard, 35-30.
Facing a fourth-and-7 at the Crimson Flashes’ 40-yard-line and just over three minutes remaining, Michael Seeger threw an incomplete pass, and the game was effectively over.
Seeger ran 13 times for 99 yards and a touchdown, Landon Rich had 10 carries for 132 yards and Jack Caldwell ran for three scores.
The problem was the Wildcats’ inability to stop Willard’s passing attack. Quarterback Isaac Robinson completed 28-of-41 passes for 409 yards and three touchdowns.
“In our first four weeks of the season, we’ve lost two games by a total of seven points. We lost in week two to Montpelier by a score of 9-7. We then lost in week four to Willard, 35-30. Both teams are 3-1,” said Schlea. “In both of those games, we had the ball at midfield late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win, but got stuck on fourth downs. We are playing tough, competitive football right now. In week three, we beat Cardinal Stritch, 40-16. That was a great win for the team. The players are playing very tough football and they are determined. The leadership and effort of players like Jack Caldwell, Michael Seeger, Izaiah Wilson and others has been great.”


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