Find your Team Here
Head Coach: Greg Dempsey
Fighting Irish Data
St. Francis and Central Catholic will tee up the pigskin for the second time this season when the Knights invade Gallagher Stadium on Friday night for a Division II, Region 6 quarterfinal.
“Whether you are playing these guys once a season or twice in a season, it is always very difficult to beat them,” remarked St. Francis headman Dan Chipka. “Their track-record speaks for itself … only a handful of teams have beaten them in this area over the last decade. But we know that – and realize that both the TRAC championship and OHSAA playoff march goes through them. We will not back down.”
The Knights are looking to end nearly two decades of dominance by the Irish in the Toledo rivalry, with St. Francis losing 18 straight to the Irish dating back to 2003.
Central Catholic stays No. 1; Grove makes first appearance.
TOLEDO — The Three Rivers Athletic Conference (TRAC) has gone through Cherry Street and Greg Dempsey’s football dynasty since the conference’s inaugural season in 2011. The Fighting Irish have claimed six of the nine TRAC championships and are expected to be in the mix for their seventh this fall, third straight. Toledo Central Catholic sports a dizzying 58-5 TRAC mark in nine years.
“We have good numbers for the 2020 season,” said Dempsey. “We have good team speed and athleticism. We also have good depth at the skill positions.”
Entering his 21st season, Dempsey surpassed the 200-win mark last autumn and holds an .810 career winning percentage (204-48).
Toledo CC made its 16th straight foray into the playoffs last year before falling in the state semifinals to eventual state champion Cincinnati LaSalle.
The Lancers were the lone team to surpass 30 points on the Irish defense, while Toledo St. John’s and Findlay were the only foes able to eclipse 20 points in the regular season.
Central Catholic outscored its opponents 494-157 (35.3 ppg-11.2 ppg) while also nearly doubling adversaries in yards throughout the season (5,392-2,726).
The Irish were prolific in the trenches and dominated on the majority of Friday nights. However, the pits are a concern for Dempsey.
“Concerns will rest on who will step up on the offensive and defensive lines,” said Dempsey. “We graduated almost all of our starters and we will lack experience on the lines. Depth at certain positions could also be a concern.
“Our JV team was very successful last season and we need those players to step up and fill the voids left by the graduating seniors.”
Central Catholic was about a 5-1 run to pass ratio last fall. The Irish ran 769 plays, with 618 being rushes. The ground attack was proficient, churning out 3,752 yards for a 6.1 average per rush.
Graduated workhorse Jonzell Norrils (first-team all-Ohio, now at Akron) paced the run game with 297 attempts for 1,936 yards and 28 touchdowns. Quarterback Bishop Vargas (5-11, 170, sr.) added 109 rushes for 506 yards and two scores.
Prentiss Reasonover, who holds an offer from Akron, will take over Norrils’ workload. Reasonover carried 83 times for 480 yards and hit paydirt four times last fall.
Although Dempsey went to the air only 151 times, each completion averaged 18.4 yards. Over a quarter of the completions (89) resulted in scores, with 23 touchdowns being racked up through the air.
Vargas hit on 81-136 passes for 1,547 yards and 21 touchdowns, while throwing just seven interceptions.
Graduated wideout Randy Williams is now at the University of Findlay.
The receiving department should be in great hands with Bowling Green commit Tae’Shaun Johnson (5-11, 185, sr., 32 receptions, 642 yards, 9 TDs) and J’Shun Rushing (6-2, 175, sr., 11 receptions, 269 yards, 6 touchdowns, Youngstown State commit) both back.
“We return most of the skill in our passing game,” explained Dempsey. “We need our passing game to be efficient early to help a new offensive line and running back develop our run game.”
Up front, the shoes of second-team all-Ohio lineman Jamon Gibson (6-2, 275) will be challenging to replace, along with Carter Fouty, who was a defensive standout and now at the Air Force Academy.
Christopher Sennett (6-2, 280, sr.) is the lone starter back in the trenches. Gio DeSantis (5-10, 215, sr.) will look to step into a starting role on the line, while junior tight end Malon Barbour (6-2, 250, holds an offer from Akron) will look to make an impact.
Only a quartet of starters return for coordinator Ryan Brown.
However, all four returnees are some of the best in the TRAC. Jalen Riven (OLB, 6-2, 210, sr., Toledo commit), Chris Jackson (ILB, 6-2, 205, offers from Iowa State, Toledo and BG) are back at the second level, along with safeties Da’Shaun Tanner (5-11, 180, sr., Youngstown State commit) and Dahveyon Greer (5-11, 190, jr.).
“We return only four starters, but they are impact type players,” lauded Dempsey. “The returning starters will have to provide leadership for the new starters. We do have good size, speed and athleticism.”
Opponents mustered only a measly 2.3 yards per rush and a 27-percent third-down conversion rate on the bullish Irish defense last autumn.
The passing game was also a struggle for foes, with just 164 of 341 passes completed for an average of 131.1 yards per game.
DeSantis also will see time at linebacker and Barbour will likely see time on the point of impact.
Kendal Marshall, a first-team all-TRAC linebacker, had 79 stops, 17 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. He is a preferred walk-on at Akron now.
Meanwhile, nose guard Jacob Jackson is now at Trine University.
Fouty (6-5, 270) was a big part in helping the Irish earn a state semifinal appearance for the sixth time in eight years with 56 stops, eight tackles behind the line and five sacks.
Linebacker Ja’Kobe Crowell was also a standout on defense before he was lost for the season due to injury after eight games. He racked up 38 stops, 13 tackles-for-loss and delivered eight sacks.
Semaj Cross, now at Lafayette, was the big loss in the secondary where he earned first-team all-TRAC and district.
Junior Cole Tishler is back to handling the kicking chores. He was 7-7 on PATs, while also averaging 49.2 yards on kickoffs. Three of his 13 kickoffs went for touchbacks.
The return game graduated its top two players from 2019. Randy Williams led the kick returners with eight returns for 160 yards (20-yard average), while Jamie Johnson had 10 punt returns for 85 yards.
Tae’Shaun Johnson brought back three punts for 16 yards last fall.
Dempey looks for St. John’s and Whitmer to be near the top of the conference.
“The TRAC is a meat grinder this year like any other year. St. John’s and Whitmer have strong teams returning and will be picked to be at the top of the league. Findlay has a nice young nucleus coming back and a new coach with great experience that will be interesting to see how they develop. If we can develop our lines on both sides of the ball and build some depth I think we can compete for the TRAC championship, but we must have guys step up and avoid injuries.”
8-28 vs. lima senior
9-4 vs. st. john’s
9-11 at st. francis
9-18 vs. findlay
9-25 at whitmer
10-2 at clay
Harper Woods, Mich., 35-12
Detroit Catholic Central, 28-6
St. John’s, 31-26
Lima Senior, 34-0
Fremont Ross, 50-6
St. Franics, 20-0
*St. Francis, 20-10
*St. John’s, 28-6