And that’s not just because of the unique Tarblooders nickname, though host Norwalk can counter with a unique nickname of its own.
The Truckers host Cleveland Glenville in a Division III Region 10 first-round playoff game on Friday in the No. 1 vs. No. 8 pairing. Kickoff between the Associated Press No. 13-ranked Truckers (8-2) and Tarblooders (7-3) is set for 7 p.m. at Whitney Field.
Any football fan who watches the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturdays over the past 20 years — as well as the NFL on Sundays — is quite familiar with the Glenville program.
Some of the notable Tarblooders’ alumni who starred for the Buckeyes included Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Troy Smith, receiver Ted Ginn Jr., DB Donte Whitner, QB Cardale Jones and DB Marshon Lattimore.
From 2002-14, Glenville had 22 players sign with Ohio State.
That top-flight talent has helped the Tarblooders reach the state playoffs 16 times under longtime head coach Ted Ginn Sr. since 1999. That includes two trips to the state championship game (2009, 2013) and three state semifinal appearances (2004).
“They are a talented team with some great size and physical athletes,” Norwalk coach Todd Fox said. “And it's a historic program. We know they are bringing a very good team to Whitney Field on Friday.”
Glenville is led by another NCAA Div. I recruit on Friday in quarterback and safety William Anglen. He has garnered interest from Cincinnati and Colorado on defense.
In last week’s 56-0 win over Cleveland Rhodes, Anglen finished with four touchdowns, including a 65-yard run and two TD passes to Lamarco Clark in the first half.
Anglen returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 84 yards for another TD. Running back Jovan Goodson added two TD runs for Glenville.
“They are both exceptional and make things happen with their feet,” Fox said of Anglen and Goodson. “They are playmakers who we will have to contain as a defense and keep them in check.”
Fox said the Tarblooders are a balanced run-pass attack, but the variables of the weather, and the conditions of Whitney Field could alter what either team does on Friday.
The grass surface took a beating on two wet, cold nights last week in Norwalk and St. Paul home games. There is a slight chance of snow on Thursday, while Friday’s temperature at kickoff is currently projected at 32 degrees.
“They are balanced, but our goal is to force them to throw the ball on us and slow down their run game a little bit,” Fox said. “But you never know how the elements outside and the field conditions are going to affect things on Friday.”
The Tarblooders opened with three losses to Div. I playoff teams Euclid (29-24), Cleveland Heights (17-0) and Olentangy Liberty (34-0). Then then once again tore through the Senate League, outscoring their opponents 303-6.
Glenville has won 22 consecutive Senate titles, and have not lost a league game since 1997.
“They are an even front most of the time on defense, a lot of like what we've seen throughout our SBC schedule,” Fox said. “But this is an attacking, fast defense that has great inside linebackers and interior lineman who are just fundamentally steady. This is a great team.”
Fox said one of the biggest keys to Friday’s game is simply being better than last week. The Truckers fell behind early to Tiffin Columbian, 14-0, and were only within one score for about five minutes from the second quarter on in a 29-14 loss.
“We need to be the football team that we are and have been,” he said. “Be more consistent with our attacks and making sure we're finishing through plays and things like that. I think the SBC Lake has prepared us for a game like this, and quite honestly, that's why we enjoy it.
“We enjoy that grind and enjoy those five games, because we want to be ready for Week 11,” Fox added. “So for us, it's mentally to be ready for Game 11. Everything we put in the work for is right in front of us.”
While noting there is never a good time to lose, Fox said his team is fortunate to get an opportunity to rebound.
“We've had a grueling schedule,” he said. “I guess if we had to have a bad weekend, Friday was the best timing to have an off night. The good news is we get to reset and come back hungrier for the playoff run and be ready to go.
“Hopefully it equates to where we were at last year, but we have to go one day and one week at a time.”
Norwalk is led by running back Evan Stumpf, who can join Breck Turner (2014) and Trevon Raymore (2018) as a 2,000-yard rusher in a single season on Friday. Stumpf has 1,994 yards and 23 touchdowns on 218 attempts.
Quarterback Garrett Chapin has thrown for 1,44 yards (113-of-173) and 8 TDs, with Ryan Sowders catching 41 passes for 639 yards and 4 TDs.
Defensively, Norwalk is led by linebackers Alec Maloney and Josh Neuberger. Maloney has 116 tackles with four sacks and three interceptions, while Neuberger adds 90 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions.
Kicker Garrison Smith is 48-of-48 on extra point attempts and 10-of-11 on field goals. He also carries a 41.7 average on 31 punts.
Friday’s game is Norwalk’s fifth playoff appearance, and just the third first-round home game — all since 2014. While the pressure of “win or go home” is very real, Fox also wants to make sure his players understand what they’ve done so far.
“They should take pride in the position they are at as a result of their hard work,” he said. “You can never take for granted making the playoffs. We’re fortunate to be there two years in a row. Winning a league championship you also can’t take for granted. You don't get to do this every season.
“We have a good senior class and our 'next man' program has continued to develop, and continued to work to build our program where we wanted to be,” Fox added. “We want to get it to the point where it is an expectation, but right now we should feel like it's quite an honor that we've earned. We want to take advantage of the moment and go after it."
Norwalk team stats
Yards for: 3,973 (397.3)
Points for: 366 (36.6)
Points allowed: 178 (17.8)
Yards allowed: 2,412 (241.2)
Norwalk playoff history (6-3)
State semifinal at Akron
Norwalk 20, Akron SVSM 7
State championship at Dayton
Norwalk 27, Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas 17
First round at Tiffin
Columbian 34, Norwalk 28 2OT
First round at Norwalk
Norwalk 42, Perkins 34
Second round at Perkins
Clyde 35, Norwalk 24
First round at Norwalk
Norwalk 42, Bowling Green 14
Second round at North Ridgeville
Norwalk 56, Rocky River 7
Regional championship at Bellevue
Norwalk 20, Sandusky 17
State semifinal at Wapakoneta
Kettering Alter 34, Norwalk 13