With the Hilliard Bradley High School football team likely needing to win out and get some help to make its first playoff appearance, coach Mike LoParo hasn't shied away from discussing the postseason with his players.
The Jaguars, who defeated Canal Winchester 49-7 on Oct. 11 and have won four of their past five games, are 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Cardinal Division heading into a matchup Friday, Oct. 18, at Westerville North.
"We talk a lot about it, actually," LoParo said, referring to the playoffs. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that we're such a young school (having opened in 2009). We've been sort of thrown to the wolves being in a tough region (Division II, Region 5) and a tough conference. The playoffs are the next step for our program to take."
Bradley was expected to be 15th in the Region 5 computer ratings when the OHSAA released them Oct. 15. The top eight teams in the region make the playoffs.
LoParo believes Bradley needs to play at the level it did when it posted consecutive shutouts against Olentangy Orange (44-0 on Sept. 13) and Dublin Jerome (20-0 on Sept. 20) if it is to make a serious push toward the playoffs.
The Jaguars have averaged 39.2 points in their last five games, but they allowed a combined 117 points in a 52-48 win over Westerville South on Sept. 27 and a 69-31 loss to Westerville Central on Oct. 4.
Senior quarterback Tommy Horn, junior running back Trey Anderson, senior running back T.J. Martin and senior wide receiver Matt Johnson have combined for 1,765 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns to pace Bradley's option attack. Johnson has five catches for a team-high 166 yards and a touchdown.
"We need to put it all together," LoParo said. "Westerville North is a team heading in the right direction, and we're going to have to go hard to beat them."
North fell to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the OCC-Cardinal with a 56-7 loss at Central on Oct. 11. The Warriors allowed 417 total yards in their fifth consecutive loss and scored their only points in the third quarter on a 58-yard run by senior running back Andy Struttmann, who also starts at linebacker.
Junior running back Jake Hinz leads North's ground game with 512 yards and five touchdowns on 68 carries. Senior running back John Taylor has 395 yards and four scores on 81 carries and Struttmann has 346 yards and five touchdowns on 45 carries. North has 1,525 yards rushing on the season but only 344 passing.
"We're most stable and successful when we get our run game going," Warriors coach Rodger Elander said. "If we're in a situation where we have to pass 30 times a game, that's not where we want to be."
Elander downplayed Brad-ley's defensive struggles against South and Central.
"It's just tough to compare teams and situations," he said. "It's like saying if Team A beat Team B and we played well against Team A, then we'd definitely beat Team B. Who knows what will happen in a given situation?"