Toronto clinging to final playoff spot

BATTLING — Toronto’s Juston Patterson fights for yards against Columbiana’s Zach Witherow on Sept. 29. (Photo by Joe Catullo)

TORONTO — The Toronto football team is looking to get back on track this week against United.

The Golden Eagles and Red Knights face off at 7 p.m. in an Ohio Eastern Athletic Conference contest Friday night at Clarke Hinkle Field on Toronto’s senior night.

Toronto enters the game coming off of a 64-20 loss last week to East Palestine at Reid Stadium.

“East Palestine is a very good football team,” Toronto (4-4) head coach Eric Meek said. “We have played very good football teams three weeks in a row. They beat us in all areas of the game. We need to regroup. Our kids always come to practice, and they practice hard.

“Our confidence is shaken. We are not used to losing. We have lost decisively three weeks in a row to good teams. We are 4-4, and we still have a chance to finish the season with a winning record if we end the season well.”

Toronto will be playing a lot of young guys this week against United.

“We are going to be starting nine underclassmen on offense and 10 on defense,” Meek said. “We are a youthful football team. We have to get better. This is our senior’s last game at Clarke Hinkle Field.”

United enters the game coming off of a 43-0 victory over Leetonia at home.

“They like to mix it up,” Meek said about the Golden Eagles offense. “They got (Cade) Wood back. We missed several weeks including the East Palestine game. They are a senior-dominated football team. Their record was not great last season, but they played a lot of young kids. They have a lot of seniors on this year’s team.

So far this season, United has defeated Minerva (21-14), Malvern (12-6), Wellsville (26-7) and Leetonia, while losing to Salem (21-9), East Palestine (36-7), Columbiana (34-14) and Southern Local (24-14).

“We are going to continue to try and improve this week and come away with the win,” Meek said. “They are good against the run. They run a 3-4 defense. We are going to have to bring our best game. They are going to be up for this game. We have played three really good football teams the last three weeks, and United is also a good team.”

Like the Red Knights last few opponents, the Golden Eagles will blitz and try to put pressure on Toronto quarterback Nate Karaffa.

“Yes, they do,” Meek said. “One thing that stood out on film was they shed the blocks and get to the ball. We are going to have to sustain our blocks. That is something we have emphasized this week. We are going to have to do that.

“We are very thin. We have a lot of injuries; that is not an excuse. At this time of the year you are either healthy or you are not. We are not. Our young kids are going to have to step up. A lot of kids have been getting a lot of playing time.”

This will be the first time Meek has gone up against United as a head coach.

“When I played at East Palestine we played them, but that was a long time ago,” he said.

Toronto has lost the line of scrimmage the past few weeks, and the Red Knights are going to need to do a better job up front this week.

“It comes down to blocking and tackling,” Meek said. “We need to play with passion and energy. Going back to the Edison game and the Southern game, we played with a tremendous amount of passion, energy and excitement. We have taken a beating the last three weeks. We are on a downward spiral. We want to finish strong.”

Toronto has lost three straight games after winning four straight.

“This is a tough league,” Meek said. “We knew that going into it. We are going to have to regain our confidence. We want to play with confidence and play fast. We need to do what we have been doing. We have not had a lot of turnovers, and we have had very few penalties. It is going to come down to blocking and tackling.”

The Red Knights enter play this week in the eighth spot in the Ohio Division VII Region 25 standings.

Toronto ends the regular season next week at rival Wellsville up at Nicholson Stadium. The Red Knights have a shot at the playoffs with one more win in the final two weeks. Two straight victories could almost guarantee a spot.